In 1991, conservationist Dave Foreman and biologist Michael Soulé called together a small group of conservation biologists and conservationists. As Foreman relates in Rewilding North America:

At that meeting, we formed the Wildlands Project to continue visionary planning but with a view encompassing all of North America… we knew that effective conservation had to be on a larger scale than ever before.

Then in 2003, Dave Foreman and the Wildlands Project board of directors established The Rewilding Institute as a think tank to develop and promote concepts and strategies for continental-scale conservation. Foreman coined the term “rewilding” that is now used throughout conservation literature. John Davis currently serves as executive director of the Institute and editor of the online Rewilding Earth. The Wildlands Project has since become the Wildlands Network, reflecting Foreman’s view that “we need a continental wildlands network of core wild areas, wildlife movement linkages, and compatible-use lands to meet habitat needs of wide-ranging species…”

With public lands along the Cascades Range forming a major thoroughfare for north-south migrations in North America, the Cascades are an essential component of the ecological network designated by The Rewilding Institute as the “Pacific MegaLinkage” and by the Wildlands Network as the “Pacific Wildway.” The complete corridor extends north from Baja California along the Pacific Crest to intersect in British Columbia with the Rocky Mountains, part of the “Spine of the Continent MegaLinkage,” or “Western Wildway.” These north-south corridors have become especially important because of climate change, allowing wildlife to move north in a warming climate.

Foreman concurs, “Increasingly important is protection of south to north and low-elevation to high-elevation linkages as suitable habitat for plant and animal range shifts because of climate change.” He distinguishes between “intraterritorial” movement “within a home range for daily or seasonal travel” (e.g., bison leaving Yellowstone in winter to lower elevations where grass is more readily accessible, but then returning to the park in summer) and “interterritorial” movement for “long-distance dispersal or exploratory movements outside of an established home range” (e.g., badgers reestablishing home range farther north in response to a warming climate, or adolescent wolves dispersing to claim new homelands).

The Pacific Wildway, primarily the Pacific Crest’s Coast Mountains of British Columbia, the Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada Range, also includes the Olympic Mountains in Washington State and the Coast Ranges of Washington, Oregon, and California. These coastal mountains are separated from the higher mountains of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada to the east by broad valleys: the Puget Sound Lowland in Washington, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Central Valley in California. Even in California that has high-density development there are still rural and primitive areas that support resident mountain lions and wolves that have drifted south from northern populations.

The Cascade Range on the north and the Sierra Nevada Range on the south meet in northern California in the region of Lake Almanor on the North Fork of the Feather River. The California Geological Survey defines the boundary as “where bedrock disappears under the Cenozoic volcanic cover of the Cascade Range.” That is, to the south of this zone the rock is older granitic bedrock of the Sierra Nevada, but to the north the geology changes to an overlying volcanic landscape rising to Mt. Lassen.

Like the Cascades, much of the Sierra Nevada Range is protected in a system of national forests and wilderness areas that include the famed Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. As Foreman says in Rewilding North America, “Existing wilderness areas, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and roadless or lightly roaded areas on the U.S. public lands … are the building blocks for an ecologically oriented wildlands network.”

Yosemite Valley

Spanish for “snowy hill,” the Sierra Nevada is usually blanketed with several feet of snow each winter, with the snowy peaks dominating the horizon. A stretch of some of the highest mountains in the continental U.S., called the “High Sierras,” includes the tallest, Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet. This is of course the old home ground of John Muir, eminent conservationist, writer, and founder of the Sierra Club, which he named for his mountains. To Muir, the Sierras were the “Range of Light.” Upon his first sight of the range, he says,

… it seemed not clothed with light, but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city. …Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.

The Sierra Nevada Range ends on the southeast at Tehachapi Pass that marks a boundary with the Mojave Desert. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through Tehachapi Pass, having started to the south near the town of Campo, California, near the border with Mexico. As Cheryl Strayed recounts in her book, Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, she started her PCT hike at Tehachapi Pass after hitching a ride.

I stood by the silent highway after they drove away. Small clouds of dust blew in swirling gusts beneath the glaring noon sun. I was at an elevation of nearly 3,800 feet, surrounded in all directions by beige, barren-waist-high chaparral. I was standing at the western edge of the Mohave Desert and at the southern foot of the Sierra Nevada, the vast mountain range that stretched north for more than four hundred miles to Lassen volcanic National Park, where it connected with the Cascade Range …

In perhaps his best-known novel, On the Road, Jack Kerouac modeled his frenzied character Dean Moriarty on Neal Cassady, another of the Beat poets, as they traveled with friends back and forth across the country. Kerouac is credited with coining the generational term in his novel: “They were like the man with the dungeon stone and the gloom rising from the underground, the sordid hipsters of America, a new beat generation that I was slowly joining.” On one of the cross-country trips, they traveled over Tehachapi Pass where Strayed would start her hike decades later.

At dawn, in snowy passes, we labored toward the town of Mojave, which was entryway to the great Tehachapi Pass. … starting up. Dean took the wheel and carried us clear to the top of the world.

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