Last week, the world celebrated the first annual Half-Earth Day. In Washington, D.C., the celebration began at National Geographic headquarters, where esteemed scientists and thought-leaders gathered to discuss the Half-Earth vision posited by Dr. E.O. Wilson in his 2016 book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life.
Dr. Wilson’s words have long been a source of inspiration across the globe—and for Wildlands Network, none have resonated more deeply than his call to conserve half of the Earth’s land and sea for nature. At a continental scale, we have been advocating for this same goal in North America for over 25 years. And so, as Dr. Wilson continues to galvanize the conservation community around a common vision, Wildlands Network is poised to help put this vision into action.
Transforming Vision into Policy
On October 24, the day after the official celebration of Half-Earth Day, Wildlands Network brought Dr. Wilson to the Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, D.C., to discuss how his vision can be implemented at the level of federal policy.
Joining Dr. Wilson onstage were Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), along with moderator Andrea Seabrook (Managing Editor of Countable and former reporter for National Public Radio). Together, these honored guests discussed the challenges and opportunities facing our natural heritage in the midst of unprecedented climate change and the 6th mass extinction of biodiversity on our planet.
“I introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act in 2016 to help protect the nearly 1 in 5 animal and plant species in the U.S. at risk of extinction,” said Rep. Don Beyer. “Much of the danger to our most endangered species comes from habitat loss, and scientists like Dr. E.O. Wilson have told us that connecting habitats to ensure safe travel between them is key to the genetic strength of threatened populations, and to biodiversity as a whole.”
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would establish a National Wildlife Corridors System. The act would provide the framework necessary for instituting the Half-Earth vision on the ground in the U.S. while serving as a model for biodiversity conservation around the world. But, you might be wondering, where do we put these wildlife corridors to achieve this vision and make this policy most effective?
Vision into Action
After Dr. Wilson’s discussion with Rep. Beyer and Sen. Udall, 6 leading scientists presented some of the scientific work that’s been done to inform next steps in answering these questions. Moderated by Dr. Bruce Stein of the National Wildlife Federation, the panelists included Dr. Healy Hamilton of NatureServe, Dr. Stuart L. Pimm of the Nicholas School at Duke University, Dr. Jon Beckmann of Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. Gary Tabor of Center for Large Landscape Conservation, and our very own Dr. Ron Sutherland.
The presenters articulately laid out the case for why we need wildlife corridors from both a human and an environmental standpoint. They also described successful corridor projects (e.g., Path of the Pronghorn), and roadmaps for implementing Half-Earth—such as Wildlands Network’s Eastern Wildway. As Dr. Sutherland unveiled our vision for eastern North America, pointing out that our map protects roughly half of the land and water from eastern Canada to the Florida Everglades, the audience of more than 400 people exploded into applause.
“If you want to know what Dr. Wilson’s vision of Half-Earth actually looks like,” Dr. Sutherland said while motioning to the Eastern Wildway map, “well, here it is.”
Dr. Wilson is not only one of the greatest scientists of our time, but also one of the most important thought-leaders for the conservation community. His vision of Half-Earth is exactly the kind of inspiration and call to action desperately needed in our current times. We are proud to have hosted—thanks to the tremendous work of our Policy Director, Susan Holmes—such a luminary to engage with policymakers and scientists about how to put this vision into action.
Meanwhile, at Wildlands Network, we will continue to lead the way through policy, advocacy, and collaboration. As our Executive Director Greg Costello said in his closing remarks in D.C., “We know what we need to do, we have the tools to do it. Now we just have to do it.”
Read media coverage about Half-Earth Day:
Corridors Key to Protecting Species, Conservationists Say. The Wildlife Society