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Reconnecting the Pacific: Introducing Our BC to Baja Wildway

Dozens of bleach bones, including jawbones, leg bones, etc., in the grass
A scattering of bones left behind by wild predators at Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Paula MacKay

Every day, between 150 and 200 species go extinct—1,000 times the natural rate. We are the big driver behind this exponential rate of extinction—our destruction of species’ habitat, poor wildlife management, and now climate change. Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and both extreme events and more subtle changes in precipitation and temperature are happening so fast that species cannot adapt through normal evolutionary processes.

For 25 years, Wildlands Network has focused on a goal that is now recognized as an antidote to the biodiversity crisis and the critical link in climate adaptation: protected core habitat areas for the full suite of biodiversity connected by functioning, protected wildlife corridors, flyways and aquatic systems.

Long recognized as essential to maintaining genetic flow for all of life, this reconnection of nature is even more critical as climate change impacts become more severe. Indeed, it is the most frequently recommended climate adaptation measure in the conservation science community, including the world’s preeminent naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson, a longtime Wildlands Network supporter who has picked up the drumbeat with his Half-Earth Initiative.

In the early 1990s, Wildlands Network captured the imagination of the conservation world by producing maps illustrating the great continental wildways necessary to preserve biodiversity in North America. Our regional Wildlands Network Design maps inspired local partners to expand their belief of what was possible, putting their local efforts into a larger frame.

Map of North America showing the Eastern, Western, Pacific, and Boreal Wildways envisioned by Wildlands Network.
Map of North America showing the Eastern, Western, Pacific, and Arctic/Boreal Wildways envisioned by Wildlands Network.

This belief has flourished in our active, successful long-term Wildway campaigns in the Eastern United States and the Mountain West. Despite these successful efforts, however, there remain several areas on the North American continent still in need of this bold vision to reconnect, restore and rewild our lands.

Meeting the Challenge of Our Time

In 2017, Wildlands Network explored the possibilities of a connected Western coast. What did we discover? That the Pacific may be the best place to implement our bold vision with a new connected and protected Wildway. On the west coast of North America (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California and Baja California and Sonora, Mexico), we have the opportunity to lead nations in realizing a new connected landscape.

…the Pacific may be the best place to implement our bold vision with a new connected and protected Wildway.

Wildlands Network’s vision is to establish a wildway from British Columbia to Baja, starting with the Pacific Northwest (WA, OR, Northern California) and growing to encompass British Columbia and all of California. For such an ambitious project, the Pacific Northwest, whose geography is as diverse as its wildlife, is the perfect backdrop.

From volcanic mountains, lush and extensive forest, to dry desert plateaus, the Pacific Northwest is abundant in beautiful landscapes and iconic wildlife. It contains intertidal zones of the Olympic coast, brimming with crabs, limpets, and sea stars, and the mossy temperate rainforests where ferns grow and northern spotted owls weave through dense canopies. We have junegrass prairies of Southeastern Oregon, where sage-grouse congregate on leks and put on extravagant mating displays; we stand below the awe-inspiring redwoods of northern California, each one an ecosystem of its own; we are blessed with the rocky outcrops of the high Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges, where mountain lions prowl at night.

A green bridge connects two rocky islands in the upper half of the frame. Blue water underneath the bridge occupies the lower half of the frame. There is a long piece of driftwood on a rocky beach in the foreground.
Deception Pass State Park, Washington. Photo: Katy Schaffer

The Pacific’s impressive landscape works in our favor. Much of the West is public land; some already protected as parks and wilderness, and the remainder a large repository amendable to more ecologically appropriate management. While the Pacific region will of course be subject to the effects of climate change—seeing lower snow packs, the loss of glaciers, warmer summers, and increased wildfires—the Pacific Northwest region is likely to serve as a climate refuge for biodiversity as species move north and upward in elevation. The relatively intact ecosystems and range of species make the Pacific Northwest a perfect ecological crucible for strategies designed to save as much biodiversity as possible by protecting and connecting fragmented habitat.

Relying on Science-Based Connectivity

Over the course of the next several years Wildlands Network will employ simultaneous coordinated strategies integrating science, policy and organizing to identify, collaboratively create and implement on-the-ground, grassroots-supported campaigns that protect and develop connected landscapes.

The scientific core of our Pacific Wildway project is a partnership with Dr. Josh Lawler, one of the country’s leading conservation scientists, and his Creative Conservation Lab at the University of Washington. Together, we have begun developing a comprehensive blueprint that identifies current and future critical wildlife habitat and linkages, starting with Washington, Oregon and Northern California. We will use this static model to identify important data gaps in the matrix of protected and connected core habitat areas and lead on-the-ground projects to reconnect the Pacific.

Rocky cliffs outline a ring of blue water, from the left of the frame to the top right. Blue sky lies above the cliffs.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. With our Pacific Wildway project, we hope to work with stakeholders to protect and connect more lands. Photo: Katy Schaffer

Wildlands Network’s Pacific Wildway project will span hundreds of miles over three states and contain hundreds of thousands of acres. Accomplishing our goal will involve vital collaboration with scientists, environmentalists, legislators, forest service and transportation agencies, and local landowners to expand protected lands, reform policy, establish wildlife bridges on interstate roads, and provide incentives for private land stewardship.

The Pacific Wildway project provides a lifeline for species endangered by degraded habitat and shrinking resources and is the best endeavor to save our Pacific biodiversity. Imagine: Connectivity in the Pacific Northwest looks like a stably growing population of gray wolves in Washington, Oregon and California. Connectivity in the Pacific sounds like the short-whistles of successfully nesting marbled murrelets in the Olympics in early summer. Connectivity feels like cold fresh glacier water of the Sauk River while watching a school of silvery bull trout swim below the surface. Connectivity in the Pacific is investment in overpasses or underpasses to prevent roadkill on our highways. Connectivity in the Pacific is ushering in and embracing new models, strategies, collaboration and change.

Discovery Park, Washington. Protected parks like these serve as the building blocks for connected wildways. Photo: Katy Schaffer

In the face of habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss, our Connecting the Pacific project will reconnect habitat to give wildlife room to roam, and create wild spaces for lasting adventure. For updates about the official launch of our Connecting the Pacific: BC to the Bay Wildway project, follow Wildlands Network on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). You can also support our Connecting the Pacific project by getting involved in your local conservation organizations and donating to Wildlands Network.

We would love to hear from you! Take a moment to engage with us on our social media channels or leave a comment below this post and let us know what connectivity in the Pacific Northwest means to you.

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