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Core Reserves in the Western Wildway

Science has shown us that national parks and other  core reserves are essential to sustaining large carnivores and other wildlife populations. Below is a sampling of large, critical core areas in the Western Wildway:

  • In 1932, Canada and the U.S. combined Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park with Montana’s Glacier National Park to create the 1,720 mi² (4,556 km²) Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Waterton-Glacier’s unique assemblage of prairie, glacier, montane, and alpine habitats results in high biodiversity and stunning scenery. Wolves, wolverines, and both black and grizzly bears inhabit the park on both sides of the border. Waterton-Glacier also includes the headwaters of 3 major watersheds draining into 3 different oceans—the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic. Glaciers in the park not only feed these watersheds, but offer valuable opportunities for studying climate change and the future of glaciers in North America.
    Bleached elk skull with huge antlers on ground
    Elk skull, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Paula MacKay


  • Designated in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the United States’ first national park and the first of its kind on the entire planet. The park lies at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which unfolds across tens of millions of acres in the northern Rocky Mountains. In addition to the world-class geothermal features for which it was originally preserved, Yellowstone hosts habitat for grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and other charismatic wildlife. The park also contains many sites of cultural significance, and was inhabited by Native peoples long before Europeans reached America.
  • Centered around the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, Canyonlands National Park is an imposing landscape of deep chasms, red rock mesas, and free-flowing waters. Nearly 100 miles of unimpeded rivers are critical to the survival of a broad diversity of fish and wildlife, and serve as movement corridors for mule deer, desert bighorn, and cougars. Some of the rarest and most spectacular biotic assemblages in Utah are associated with the park’s springs and sandstone seeps—picturesque water sources that provide crucial habitats for migrating neotropical birds, amphibians, and other animals.
  • Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Grand Canyon National Park celebrates the majestic Grand Canyon—a gorge of the Colorado River widely considered to be one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Grand Canyon lies at the dynamic interface of the Rocky Mountain biome with the Mojave, Sonoran, and Great Basin Desert biomes. The morphology of the canyon, coupled with the Colorado River and its tributaries, strongly influences the distribution of life in the region—which includes  endemic (found only here) Kaibab tassel-eared squirrels, mountain lions, black bears, mule deer, bighorn sheep, at least 1,500 plant species, and myriad other fishes, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Some of the threatened or sensitive species of Grand Canyon include humpback chub, California condors, northern goshawks, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and spotted owls.
  • Ranging from arid piñon-juniper-oak woodlands and open grasslands to mountain elevations rising above 11,000 feet, the Gila Wilderness and Blue Range Primitive Area’s spectacular terrain exemplify the U.S. Southwest’s rugged landscape and rich biodiversity. This landscape lies along the Mogollon Rim and Mountains—the southernmost reach of the Colorado Plateau—and includes portions of the Apache and Gila National Forests, which lie at the heart of the endangered Mexican wolf’s recovery area. The Gila and Blue Range wildernesses, and their extensive streams and small rivers, provide the nexus for wildlife movement from Sonora, Mexico to the U.S. Southern Rockies and into the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Jaguars once roamed north to Grand Canyon and could one day return.
  • Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, one of the most critically threatened core areas in the southern Western Wildway, became a national monument in 2013. The monument is now permanently protected from new road development, mining, and inclusion in New Mexico’s Tri-State Energy Development Corridor, but threats from climate change, drought, and surrounding development must still be addressed. Rio Grande del Norte is known globally as the Rio Grande Flyway Corridor—a major flyway for migratory birds.
Ajos Bavispe. Photo: Luis Portillo
  • The Ajos-Bavispe National Forest Reserve and Wildlife Refuge lies only 24 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, in the Sky Islands region. Ajos-Bavispe is home to jaguars, black bears, ocelots, golden eagles, and many other wildlife species of conservation concern. The reserve itself is threatened by bureaucratic neglect, which prompted Wildlands Network’s Mexico Program to initiate a campaign on its behalf.