Connected Wildlands

The survival of many species and the very process of evolution depend on large blocks of wild land where natural processes can take place untrammeled. Yet the growth of human population creates a tendency to develop and exploit those areas.

A wolf strides across the tidal mudflats beside Meares Island, Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island.

So much of our world depends on the wild. A study of Ecosystem Services provided by wild nature found that their value, conservatively estimated, topped $30 trillion per year. In addition, the health of earth's living systems, of which humans are a part, depends on the diversity of ecosystems, the species that comprise them, and their genetic variability. This Biodiversity lends resilience to life on earth in the face of changing climatic conditions and offers people a rich store of foods and pharmaceuticals, as well as creatures we might appreciate for their aesthetic merit or simply their intrinsic right to exist alongside us.

Landscape ecology demonstrates that biodiversity can only be maintained by a network of Core Reserves that is well-connected by Wildlife Corridors and surrounded by protective Buffer Zones. Core reserves should be large enough to provide functional habitat for the creatures that inhabit them. Where necessary, they should be re-wilded, with top predators and critical "keystone" species reintroduced. They should receive the highest possible wilderness designation (e.g. National Parks, Wilderness Areas), with minimal impact forms of recreation. A network of core reserves should include representation from all levels of biodiversity, including populations, species, and landscapes. It should include terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

However, even the largest core reserves cannot provide for ongoing evolutionary processes unless they are connected by wildlife corridors. For instance, grizzly bears require up to 100 square miles of habitat, and a genetically viable population consists of at least 500 animals. Such corridors allow species to search for food, disperse into new territory after natural disturbances, and breed. Finally, the core reserves and wildlife corridors should be surrounded by buffer zones that contain uses compatible with wildlife, including subsistence gathering, cultural activities, and certain forms of Agriculture or Forestry.

The network of connected wildlands forms the wild evolutionary backbone of the bioregion, and in turn connects out to a continental-scale network of wildlands. The scale of these networks is breathtaking, sweeping for hundreds of miles. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is attempting to maintain a system of connected wildlands along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, all the way from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Canadian Yukon. The more recent Rainforest to Rockies Conservation Initiative seeks to connect the Coast and Cascades Ranges of Washington and Oregon with the Rockies.

Establish networks of connected wildlands that radiate out from core reserves with highly restricted uses to buffer zones where people pursue livelihoods subject to an etiquette that honors the needs of the wild. Weave these areas together by providing wildlife corridors so that animals and plants can disperse effectively.