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For the Wild, 2: Saving Our Wild Earth

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.

Saving Our Wild Earth

by Greg Costello

Trail of animal prints on a rugged, sandy beach with cliffs in the background.
Mountain lion tracks on the beach in northern California. Photo: David Moskowitz

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, as a fledgling lawyer in Seattle, I cut my conservation teeth on the great timber wars of the Pacific Northwest—strategizing around how a small bird (the northern spotted owl) could be used as a surrogate to save entire ecosystems. This issue seemed like a big deal at the time, and of course it was in many ways. But while I was busy trying to save spotted owls, the founders of The Wildlands Project, now Wildlands Network, were envisioning even bigger things.

These then-called dreamers spoke of an entire continent seamlessly connected and teeming with life, including the large carnivores that humans have so relentlessly persecuted—often to near-extinction. The founders of Wildlands Network also addressed the critical question of how much land and water we need to protect so that wild nature can survive. In the first issue of Wild Earth, co-founding scientist Reed Noss audaciously answered, “about half.” We have steadily pursued our bold vision for reconnecting North America ever since.

By 2015, when the renowned biologist E.O. Wilson cautioned that, to stem the sixth great extinction crisis, we need to set aside “Half-Earth” for our nonhuman neighbors, conservationists worldwide had embraced Wildlands Network’s seminal concepts of restoring, reconnecting, and rewilding whole landscapes. Our own scientists and various partners had mapped out ambitious Wildlands Network Designs for North America’s Western and Eastern Wildways, and other groups followed suit, from the Pacific Northwest to Australia, Europe, Mexico, and South America. Meanwhile, the Western Governors Association chose wildlife corridors as a focal point for its ongoing policy work, and habitat connectivity has become a key issue in U.S. federal land management.

But maps and policy pronouncements can only get us so far. We need on-the- ground results to save wild Earth, and our considerable accomplishments have been paralleled by unprecedented threats to life on this planet. The impacts of timber cuts and oil and gas exploration, for example—horrible as they may be—pale in comparison to those of fracking and global climate change. As time inches forward, the stakes grow ever higher.

Our greatest challenge is not one of science or knowledge, but rather of heart and will. Wildlands Network knows what needs to be done and we are out there doing it: fighting for wolves and wolverines in the courts; pushing for new and well-managed public lands from the North Woods to Mexico; working with private landowners to promote tolerance for carnivores; reconnecting broken landscapes acre by acre, species by species. Our work is rooted in the hope that, twenty-five years from now, we can once again look back and celebrate how far we’ve come—with owls and cougars and wolves and trout as our wild neighbors, East and West.

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