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History

Inspiring Landscape-Level Conservation Around the Globe

The year was 1991. In the face of the world’s 6th Great Extinction, many scientists had come to realize that North America’s protected areas were too small and disconnected to sustain the diversity of life—yet few were willing to act. Dr. Michael Soulé, who had cofounded the Society for Conservation Biology 6 years prior, envisioned a conservation group that could merge sound science with on-the-ground action.

Participants of founding retreat of The Wildlands Project photographed outdoors on the coast at cofounder Doug Tompkins's home. Thirteen people present, including 1 woman.
Dr. Michael Soulé (front left) with cofounders of The Wildlands Project (now Wildlands Network) in San Francisco, California, 1991.

Together with wilderness activist Dave Foreman, wildlands philanthropist Doug Tompkins, and a few other colleagues, Soulé launched this bold new group—first called the North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy, soon simplified to The Wildlands Project, and now known as Wildlands Network.

Wildlands Network has given conservationists and fellow scientists the tools and vision necessary to protect wild nature at a continental scale.

Great Dreams, as opposed to fantasies, are those that seem to lie at or just beyond the edge of possibility. When I first learned of The Wildlands Project, I thought it must be beyond that limit, and admirable whimsy of noble souls. But as quickly as I gave the idea serious thought, I was converted. With imagination and will, I firmly believe, it can be done. Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Wild Earth, Spring 2000

A quarter-century after our founding, we remain deeply grounded in conservation biology, with habitat connectivity serving as our taproot. The core principle of our work is this: if (and only if) protected areas are connected with healthy habitats on a continental scale, our treasured native plants and animals will thrive—as will life-supporting ecological processes like carbon storage and pollination.

Designing a Wild Future

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.

Nearly 2 decades ago, Wildlands Network mapped 4 visionary Wildways (broad corridors for wildlife movement, climate adaptation, and human recreation) spanning North America: the Eastern, Western, Pacific, and Boreal Wildways. We have since created scientifically based plans to help implement the Eastern and Western Wildways, and have recently renewed our Pacific Wildway program.

Wild Ideas

Over the years, Wildlands Network has redefined the language of conservation by coining such terms a rewilding, Wildways, and wildlands philanthropy. We’ve also helped popularize the lexicon of conservation planning—cores, buffers, and wildlife linkages are now commonly used by land mangers and agency staff. By translating the principles of conservation biology for a general audience, we have provided advocates with scientific insight and hope—and have shown that words have the power to inspire effective action for wild nature.

Wildlands Network has launched or helped to inspire dozens of wildlands-focused conservation organizations across the continent and the globe, including the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Rewilding Europe.

Map pinpointing approximately 20 organizations across North America, including Canada and Mexico
Map of North America showing some of the conservation organizations launched or inspired in part by Wildlands Network.

In North America, Wildlands Network and our partners continue to collaborate with local communities to restore wolves, grizzlies, and other wildlife in the American West, and to explore opportunities for native carnivores to reinhabit wildlands in the East. Over time, we will piece together conservation and recreation corridors along the Pacific Crest, Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, Great Plains, North Woods, and Southeast Coastal Plain—networks of people connecting networks of land.