Across North America, our wildlands are becoming increasingly fragmented, thanks in large part to human land use practices. Roads bisect critical wildlife habitat, urbanization forces wildlife out of their historic homes, and oil and mining extractions compromise valuable natural resources upon which humans and wildlife alike depend.
In addition, our rapidly warming planet consistently contributes to biodiversity loss, as wildlife lose their historic migration pathways. Plants, animals, and even fungi need to move to keep up with suitable conditions and find mates, food, water and shelter.
For 25 years, Wildlands Network has aggressively pursued large landscape connectivity as the antidote to such fragmentation and loss of biodiversity. Our Wildways aim to protect the rich and varied biological heritage we all share so that life in all its diversity can thrive.
Along the East Coast, we are actively working toward a solution that fulfills this vision of reconnected, restored, and rewilded landscape. Piece by piece, we’re stitching together a continental-scale network of core habitat areas and wildlife corridors, stretching from the snowy wilds of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, all the way down to the sunny Florida Keys, and as far west perhaps as the Mississippi River.
Implementing Our Vision On the Ground
Based on our continental vision of connected, protected wildlife corridors, we’ve produced a visionary map that illustrates the incredible conservation victories the Eastern Wildway could achieve. Preceded by a series of regional maps, conservation designs, landscape connectivity models, and a continental trek to ground-truth the Eastern Wildway, our new map provides hope for a rewilded future, where red wolves, black bears, elk, cougars and more can thrive.
Currently, the map shows that the potential core reserves and corridors of the Eastern Wildway cover nearly 50% of the overall region, mapping out what Dr. Wilson’s “Half-Earth” vision could look like for this important part of the world. We even unveiled the draft Eastern Wildway map, affectionately called our “Half-East” Map, to the public for the first time at the Biodiversity Days conference organized by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation at Duke University in 2017.
While the protected wildlife corridors outlined on the map aim to protect myriad species, they provide significant room to roam for top carnivores, like wolves, bears and wild cats, which are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and protecting plants from overgrazing. Such connectivity allows us to protect certain species interactions that balance ecosystems and maintain ecological resilience. Restoring these wide-ranging keystone species to eastern forests demands we reconnect our existing wildlands into a broader, more cohesive network.
The map shows us a grand vision of what’s possible if we—the conservation community and the broader public—all work together.
It’s important to note that the map is not a roadmap for pushing people off their privately owned lands, nor is it a map of human exclusion zones in the East. Instead, it shows us a grand vision of what’s possible if we—the conservation community and the broader public—all work together. The map shows us that we could choose to protect enough land and water from development to save our unique Eastern wildlands and wildlife from mass extinctions. In the process, we could also create a near-paradise of outdoor recreation opportunities unparalleled across the world, for the enjoyment of both people and wildlife.
To be sure, protecting the Wildway will take decades of hard work, and it will easily take billions of dollars in increased conservation funding, but we think the results would be well worth it, as people and wildlife would both reap the incredible benefits of continental-scale ecosystem restoration.
Conservation Is a Team Effort
We collaborated with a team of leading scientists, including Dr. Mark Anderson at The Nature Conservancy, Dr. Tom Hoctor at the University of Florida, and many others, to produce the map. We also worked with our Eastern Wildway Network partners at the Second Eastern Wildway Summit to fine-tune the map and assess any gaps in conservation priorities not covered by the first iteration of the map.
The map is a valuable tool to partners up and down the Eastern Wildway. It allows us to visualize how we might actually accomplish our ambitious conservation goals and achieve landscape connectivity on the ground. It can also serve as an essential reminder to conservationists and land managers across the continent to look across boundaries andplan at a grand scale when it comes to saving biodiversity from extinction.
We will continue to work with partners, land trusts, state and local officials, and the public to hone the map, ensuring we’re prioritizing critical conservation projects. Do you know your local or state conservation opportunities well enough to provide feedback on the Eastern Wildway vision map? We’d love to hear from you! Email Dr. Ron Sutherland at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
We’re working to produce a second iteration of the map for the public, as well as an artistically rendered version of the map to inspire those of use working toward a reconnected, rewilded and restored future along the Eastern Wildway. Sign up for our e-newsletter for all the latest updates on our mapping project.