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Reconnecting the Pacific Wildway

We won’t mince words: Today we face an unprecedented biodiversity crisis of our own making, with many wildlife populations in alarming decline across the globe. Conservation biologists have determined we are now in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction crisis, with perhaps half of the planet’s animal and plant species at risk of extinction by the turn of the century due to human overpopulation, overconsumption, and overdevelopment.

A small tan cat with black markings and yellow eyes stares at the camera.
Canada lynx, an imperiled species within the Pacific Wildway. Photo: Eric Kilby

This downward trend could not come at a worse time. Scientists predict that climate change will continue to significantly alter ecological conditions on Earth over the next decades, transforming ecosystems and triggering an increased loss of life forms due to the inability of plants and animals to adapt to fast-changing and extreme environments.

At Wildlands Network, we believe we can and must address this catastrophe with cutting-edge science, careful planning, and the courage to be bold. For more than 25 years, we have promoted efforts to reconnect, restore and rewild our landscapes as an antidote to the biodiversity crisis. Wildlands Network is now spearheading this approach in the Pacific region of North America, where some of our country’s most iconic species—including grizzly bears, orca whales, and gray wolves—are in danger.

A large wolf track is visible in the snow. A gloved hand is visible to the left.
Wolf track in the snow, Teanaway River region, Washington. Wolves have recently returned to Washington and Oregon and are in need of continued protections. Photo: Robert Long

The Science of Connectivity

To restore and sustain all native wildlife in the Pacific Wildway, we must protect large core habitat areas and reconnect these areas with secure, ecologically functional wildlife corridors, flyways, and aquatic systems. Wide-ranging wolves and other apex predators are at particular risk of species decline without such large-scale connectivity.

behind green tree tops in the forefront, a view of granite canyons.
Yosemite National Park, a critical core habitat area within the Pacific Wildway. Photo: Julia Walz

Conservation biologists have long-recognized habitat connectivity as essential to wildlife movement and to maintaining gene flow in plants and animals. Connectivity is increasingly critical now that the effects of climate change are becoming more severe.

Large-scale habitat connections (or Wildways) that stitch together core habitat areas allow plants and animals to shift their geographical range in response to changing climatic conditions. Many of the world’s leading conservation scientists, including the preeminent biologist Dr. E.O. Wilson, have identified habitat connectivity as a key component of climate adaptation.

Landscape barriers like roads and other human development break up core habitat areas and hinder animal movement, thus affecting the health and size of wildlife populations. Conversely, wildlife corridors facilitate movement (e.g., the dispersal or migration) of plants and animals by providing structural connections between large, intact habitats.

Vegetated bridge spanning highway with forest and mountains on either side
Wildlife crossing structures like this one in Banff National Park, Alberta, help provide safe passage to native wildlife. Similar efforts are underway in the Pacific Wildway. Photo: Adam Ford

Mapping a Future for the Pacific Region

Wildlands Network has partnered with scientists at the University of Washington to create a life-saving map highlighting areas in the Pacific region essential to providing habitat connectivity now and in the future.

Our mapping team is integrating data from existing connectivity models with connectivity maps that facilitate climate-driven shifts in the geographical range of plants and animals native to this region, and overlaying the results with current local conservation efforts. Our unique approach will enable us to identify connectivity gaps in the landscape today, as well as future connectivity needs and places where connectivity could be enhanced.

Conservation biologists have long-recognized habitat connectivity as essential to wildlife movement and to maintaining gene flow in plants and animals.

In summary, the objectives of our mapping project are to:

  1. synthesize existing connectivity mapping efforts from the region into one, cohesive map;
  2. identify gaps in current connectivity mapping;
  3. model regional connectivity to explicitly address predicted climate-driven shifts in species distributions;
  4. integrate existing maps with modeled climate connections;
  5. identify areas in the existing protected land network where connectivity is not a protected feature, and prioritize areas for restoration and additional protection.

Our ultimate goal is to create a precise, comprehensive, transparent, and readily accessible Pacific Wildway Map that highlights high-priority areas for conservation. Using our map as a decision-support tool, we will help drive the work of state and federal agencies and conservation organizations toward restoring, reconnecting, and rewilding the Pacific Wildway.

Stay tuned for the final map; we can’t wait to share it with you! Sign up for our e-newsletter to be the first to know when we unveil our Pacific Wildway Map.

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