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Core Reserves in the Eastern Wildway

Wilderness and other core reserves are central to Wildlands Network’s vision for an Eastern Wildway. National parks and other public wild places are essential core areas, as are large, strictly protected private lands—especially given that so much property in eastern North America is privately owned. Below we highlight some of the existing core reserves in the Eastern Wildway and measures that must be taken to protect them for wildness in perpetuity:

View of sunlit water from a rocky beach, with islands in the distance
Sunrise in the Everglades. Credit: William C. Gladish
  • The Florida Everglades, largest tropical wetland in the U.S., is home to manatees, American crocodiles, Florida panthers, and numerous other iconic and endangered species. With rising sea levels inundating this important core habitat, wildlife are increasingly being pushed northward. Panthers require safe passages to cross roads so that they can successfully escape rising waters and move to new core habitats.
  • The Southeast Coastal Plain, recently designated as a biodiversity hotspot, hosts a wide variety of wildlife, including salamanders, snakes, birds, bobcats, deer, red wolves, and black bears. From Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge straddling North Carolina and Virginia, wildness abounds—but the Southeast Coastal Plain needs more core areas to preserve the diverse plants and animals inhabiting this unique region as this area of the country is rapidly developing.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the world. A complex of national forests surrounds the park, including Cherokee, Pisgah, and Nantahala. These important cores provide many recreation opportunities for humans and habitats for hellbenders, elk, and black bears, to name a few species. The region would greatly benefit from the reintroduction of apex carnivores like red wolves and cougars to maintain ecological balance and regulate growing populations of deer and elk.
  • The rocky ridges and deep gorges of the Cumberland Plateau, stretching from southeast Kentucky into Tennessee, comprise the East’s longest expanse of hardwood forest plateau. Anchored by Daniel Boone National Forest, this area needs more protected areas as it is increasingly threatened by human development.
  • Just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a welcome retreat for people trying to escape the big city. Black bears, coyotes, beavers, river otters, white-tailed deer, barred owls, and wild turkeys are some of the nonhuman animals living in this forest complex. American chestnuts can still be found inside the park but unfortunately die before they can reproduce—a continuing casualty of the 1930s chestnut blight.
  • West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest and other public lands are still wild and wonderful places. The Cranberry and Dolly Sods Wildernesses, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, and other public properties nearby provide enough habitat to support the recovery of a missing and urgently needed apex predator, the cougar. Priorities here include protecting more land as wilderness and consolidating public lands into a large national park, which would help protect these magnificent tracts from the devastation of mountaintop-removal coal mining.
  • Many Pennsylvanians know the beloved wildlands of north-central and northwest Pennsylvania as the PA Wilds. Despite the challenging spread of resource extraction, state and national forests in Pennsylvania still contain wild forest—some of it old-growth—and plenty of prey for cougars and wolves if these keystone species were to be recovered. Curtailing commercial exploitation on public lands is as important in Pennsylvania as anywhere in the country.
  • Catskill Park, New York’s second-largest park (after the Adirondacks) is a mix of state-owned Forest Preserve protected from logging and other development, and private lands where better zoning is needed. Conservationists are working to reconnect the Catskills with the Shawangunks to the southeast. The Catskills must also be reconnected to the Adirondacks northward, which will require wildlife crossings on major roads and better protection of waterways.

    Man with sunglasses canoeing in a lake with fall foliage in background
    Canoeist near Blue Mountain Lake, Adirondacks, New York. Photo: George Wuerthner
  • New York’s biggest park, the Adirondacks, is again a mix of Forest Preserve and zoned private lands. Adirondack Park is a conservation success story of global importance, though far from complete. Here, nearly 3 million acres are protected from logging and other development, and perhaps as much as a half million acres of original old-growth forest provides habitat for songbirds, salamanders, brook trout, American martens, and other sensitive species. To prevent Adirondack Park from becoming a habitat island, though, this region needs stronger connections to the Catskills, Tughill Plateau, Ontario’s Algonquin Park, and Vermont’s Green Mountains.
  • Vermont’s scenic Green Mountains are partially protected within Green Mountain National Forest, but too much of this forest is subject to logging and motorized recreation. More public land should be protected as Wilderness, and ecological connections strengthened northward to Quebec’s Sutton Mountains (known as the Cold Hollow to Canada initiative), westward through the southern Lake Champlain Valley to the Adirondacks, and eastward across the Connecticut Valley to New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
  • The Presidential Range within New Hampshire’s White Mountains offers the most extensive and spectacular alpine habitat in the East south of Quebec. The Whites are slowly regaining a population of Canada lynx, and also provide habitat for many alpine and boreal plants. Stronger connections between the Whites and the Greens and through the Mahoosucs to the Maine Woods remain top priorities for conservation, as does installing safe wildlife crossing structures on major roads. Such structures will make life safer for wide-ranging species like lynx, bobcats, martens, black bears, river otters, and moose.
  • The least-densely populated part of the East is Northern Maine, where millions of acres of land are essentially uninhabited—though heavily logged. In 2016, President Obama designated the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, a conservation victory for Maine Woods National Park wildlands damaged by decades of industrial logging. Now established, this park may be the first place in the northeast to restore wolves, which would benefit the large population of moose now suffering from high tick loads triggered by climate change.
  • In the St. Francis River watershed where New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine meet is a little known wild area that looks much like the Allagash Wilderness Waterway of northern Maine but lacks its protection. This area should be honored and conserved as a Three Borders International Peace Park, preserving such boreal forest animals as Canada lynx, snowshoe hares, moose, and martens, and perhaps even allowing for the restoration of wolves and wolverines.
  • Quebec’s Gaspésie and Forillon National Parks are ecologically spectacular but disconnected. Quebec needs to reconnect its parks and better conserve its public lands, which are largely sacrificed to the timber industry. The Chic Choc Mountains in Gaspésie Park still host lynx, moose, and a remnant herd of caribou, but unless these wide-ranging animals are afforded more truly wild land, they may dwindle toward regional extinction (extirpation). With more rewilding efforts, Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula can become a stunningly beautiful and wild terminus to the Eastern Wildway. Adding marine protected areas to Forillon National Park would help conserve and restore whales, seals, and seabirds, too.