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For the Wild, 10: Celebrating Wildlands’ Legacy of Scientific Inspiration

Wildlands Network published For the Wild in 2017 to celebrate 25 years of reconnecting nature in North America. Every couple of weeks, we’ll be posting a new excerpt from this inspiring collection of prose, poetry, and photographs as a special feature on our website. Please join the Rewilding Society or our Wildlands Stewards giving circle to receive a bound copy of For the Wild. Visit our Donate page to learn more.

Celebrating Wildlands’ Legacy of Scientific Inspiration

by Robert Long

A bear-like animal with light brown and dark brown fur climbs a tree toward a bait bone, with snow on ground.
A wolverine visits a camera-trap station, operated as part of Dr. Long’s research in the North Cascades of Washington. Photo: Woodland Park Zoo

THE YEAR WAS 1995. I was just wrapping up my first graduate thesis, which focused on coyotes and white-tailed deer in Acadia National Park. Although I cared deeply about animals and the environment, I had begun to wonder how my background in wildlife management could make much of a difference in an unraveling world.

Somehow, the first special issue of Wild Earth journal—about an audacious effort to connect existing wild places and rewild areas in between—landed on my desk. The issue intrigued me. Here were Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, both renowned and respected scientists, taking their hard-earned research to the ground. Soulé, Noss, and colleagues advocated via the relatively new, mission-driven discipline of conservation biology for a rigorous, scientific approach to conserving nature—which meant greatly expanding the scale of our thinking.

I couldn’t have known at the time how profoundly the vision and people of Wildlands Network would influence my career and my life. Only two years later, following a serendipitous move to Vermont, my wife, Paula MacKay, and I found ourselves developing connectivity plans and reserve designs for what was then the Greater Laurentian Wildlands Project. More importantly, we were part of a much larger paradigm shift in wildlife conservation that was inspirational not only to us, but to a new generation of scientists and activists across the continent and the globe.

Recently, at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology, I reflected on the incredible impact Wildlands Network has had on today’s conservation science. Many of the inspirational figures who first influenced my work—Soulé, Dave Parsons, David Johns, Dominick DellaSala, and Paul Beier, to name a few—were present at the conference and contributing more than ever.

What struck me most, however, was that those of us who were budding biologists in the early days of Wildlands Network are now established scientists charting new paths in our respective fields. As a case-in-point, twenty years ago, a brilliant young ecologist named Carlos Carroll—another of my early influencers—was developing creative new ways to explore population ecology, habitat connectivity, and species viability. Carlos is now President of the North American Section of the Society for Conservation Biology and a conservation leader in his own right.

This, I think, is one of the most profound legacies of Wildlands Network to-date: its ability to inspire passion and purpose in those of us working in science to advance conservation.

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