Wildlands Network envisions a world where nature is unbroken, and where humans co-exist in harmony with the land and its wild inhabitants. To bring this vision to fruition, we must reconnect, restore, and rewild North America.
What is Rewilding?
Rewilding means making our landscapes whole again. Today’s national parks and other protected areas, although critical to conservation, are too small and isolated from one another to support wildlife migrations and dispersals, native plant communities, and services provided by nature—like pollination, carbon storage, and clean water. Wildlands Network is helping to rewild North America by protecting core reserves, reconnecting them via vast corridors of habitat, and restoring apex predators.
Cores are where the protection of biodiversity, ecological integrity, and wilderness are given highest priority. Science has shown us that big wild places are necessary to sustain the diversity of life, and we know that they’re good for people, too. In wilderness, we find solitude, spiritual renewal, and a quiet setting for backcountry recreation. Wilderness, or “self-willed” land, also provides a benchmark of ecological health—an especially vital measure in this era of climate change.
Cores are crucial for shy and sensitive wildlife that don’t thrive near human activity. Grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, jaguars, and cougars are good examples of animals that need Room to Roam© in order to find food, mates, and denning habitats. Large carnivores are prone to persecution by people when they wander into human-dominated landscapes, which is why human tolerance, too, is key to their survival. Cores often comprise both public and private lands, with conservation-minded private landowners playing a very important role as stewards of wildlands and wildlife.
Conservation biologists have long-recognized the loss of connected habitats as a chief threat to biodiversity. In order to keep our wildlands and wildlife healthy for future generations, we must reconnect core reserves by creating and protecting networks of continuous habitats—or Wildways. Wildways are broad, diverse habitat corridors that support wildlife movement, climate adaptation by plants and animals, and human recreation. Wildlands Network is actively working to reconnect North America through our efforts and campaigns in the Eastern, Western, and Pacific Wildways.
Roads are one of the greatest impediments to habitat connectivity. The U.S. alone is crisscrossed by 4,000,000 miles of public roads, which kill an estimated 1,000,000 vertebrates every day! That’s 365 million unnecessary wildlife deaths each year—and wildlife-vehicle collisions are also very dangerous and costly for people.
We advocate mitigation strategies that make roads safer for wildlife and humans, and help to reconnect wildlife populations that have been fragmented by our road systems. Wildlife underpasses and overpasses, like those we’re promoting in North Carolina and Sonora, Mexico, reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, improve landscape connectivity, and save lives and money.
Bears, big cats, wolves, and other large carnivores hold a special place in our imaginations—and also in our natural landscapes. Their presence hints at ecological wholeness, with healthy populations regulating food webs in ways that biologists are only beginning to understand. The return of gray wolves to Yellowstone is perhaps the best-known example of how apex predators act as “keystones” in the ecosystems they inhabit. When the wolves came back, so did the willows that had been over-browsed by elk, and with them the beavers and birds and other creatures that had quietly disappeared. Such “trophic cascades” are part of what makes apex predators so vital to our wildlands.
Wolves and other apex predators are the essence of wilderness for eco-tourists worldwide, and bring millions of dollars to Yellowstone and other national parks each year. But these same charismatic animals were historically eradicated from most of their native habitats in North America, and still run a high risk of being shot, trapped, or poisoned when they wander into agricultural lands or other developed areas. Large carnivores are also vulnerable to roads because they tend to wander great distances—and to the effects of climate change, which may threaten their prey and their native habitats.
The restoration and protection of apex predators is fundamental to the vision of Widlands Network, as is promoting peaceful co-existence between humans and wildlife. In short, rewilding is our chance to restore our relationship with our wild neighbors.