The migration patterns and pathways for North America’s wildlife have been disrupted in most places by development and human interaction. While recognizing that our national and state parks and forests must be maintained as core islands of refuge for wildlife (and people), we now know that no matter how successful we may be in these efforts, they’re not enough. As a result, the natural evolution for wildlife conservation over the last several decades has been toward recognition that individual species and populations of wildlife can only be protected in the long term by preservation of entire ranges of migrations.
A well-known example of such conservation efforts in North America, and perhaps the most successful, is the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Y2Y, as the corridor is called (y2y.net), will be a linking of public lands along the Rocky Mountains from the Yellowstone country of Wyoming and Montana north through British Columbia and into the Yukon Territory of Canada, nearly to the Arctic Circle. Like Tanzania’s Serengeti that flows north into Kenya’s Masai Mara, where ungulates follow grass produced by seasonal rains and predators follow their prey, Y2Y will preserve and in places reestablish the migration of North American wildlife—elk, deer, and caribou intertwined with the wanderings of bear, wolf, and wolverine.
While establishing the Y2Y Corridor along the Northern Rockies in the U.S. and Canada is the most ambitious of these efforts, and perhaps the most important for North America’s megafauna populations, other preservation efforts throughout the continent recognize the importance of preserving and reestablishing migration patterns and the necessity of protecting habitat corridors. These various efforts range from Y2Y west across the Columbia Highlands to the Cascade Range, down the Southern Rockies to the Colorado Plateau, and then farther south into Mexico and Central America along the Path of the Panther. And there’s the Great Plains through the middle of the continent, the Canada/US Algonquin-to-Adirondacks effort in the northeast, down the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge, Tennessee and Kentucky’s Cumberland Plateau, and south into Florida’s Okefenokee to Okeechobee corridor.
The Wildlands Network™, a coalition of preservation groups, advocates a comprehensive vision, one encompassing all of North America (wildlandsnetwork.org). Michael Soulé, a co-founder of the Network, and Reed Noss used the term “rewilding” (a term coined by environmental activist Dave Foreman) for the effort to restore “big wilderness” in their 1998 Wild Earth article “Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation.” The Wildlands Network proposes rewilding of four primary “wildways”:
- Western Wildway© along the “Spine of the Continent” from Alaska’s Brooks Range down the Rocky Mountains and Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental into Central America.
- Pacific Wildway© from the Baja California Peninsula north along the Pacific Crest to where the Coastal Ranges intersect the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and including the Pacific Coast to Prince William Sound in Alaska.
- Eastern Wildway© stretching from Quebec and New Brunswick south along the Appalachians, reaching the Gulf of Mexico and penetrating the Florida Peninsula.
- Boreal Wildway© sweeping across the taiga forests of northern Canada to connect the northern regions of the Western and Eastern Wildways.
Ideally, core islands of existing national and provincial parks, forests, and preserves would be surrounded by buffer lands, places where limited human presence and activities coexist with wildlife populations and act to separate the refuges from higher densities of humans and habitat disturbance. And then, where these core and buffer areas are separated by developed regions, habitat bridges would be preserved or created—strips of land or greenways, in some cases actual green bridges over and passes under highways—where once again ungulates may follow their ancient paths from wintering to summering grounds and back, and predators will be granted free passage across their former domains. This reestablishing of migration patterns would be a resuscitation, a healing of the pulsing heart of ecosystems, the rhythmic expansion and contraction of wildlife populations that permits wildlife to follow the seasons and commingle their now isolated gene pools, thus ensuring the health of populations and their continued existence in North America.
“History, Inspiring Landscape-Level Conservation Around the Globe,” Wildlands Network, retrieved January 2017, https://wildlandsnetwork.org/history/
Soulé, Michael E., and Reed Noss, “Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation,” Wild Earth, Fall 1998.
“The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2018,” Wildlands Network, retrieved March 2019, https://wildlandsnetwork.org/resources/the-wildlife-corridors-conservation-act-of-2018/