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Bold New Initiative to Rewild the Midwest

Heartland Rewilding, a new coalition of environmental groups, launches a series of bold rewilding initiatives throughout the Mississippi River watershed to restore and protect nature and promote coexistence with wildlife. 

On September 25, 2022, World Rivers Day, Heartland Rewilding, a new coalition of environmental groups, will launch a bold new initiative to rewild the Mississippi River watershed by reconnecting and restoring wildlands and promoting a message of coexistence with wildlife. The initiative officially launches on World Rivers Day. 

Heartland Rewilding was created through a partnership between Project Coyote, The Rewilding Institute, and the Half-Earth Project. The goal of the partnership is to dedicate staff and resources to address the critical Mississippi River watershed, an area that covers a third of North America. This new coalition ambitiously aims to address the loss of 90 percent of natural areas across the continent’s largest watershed to restore a healthier landscape for humans and wildlife.

“Few places in the United States have experienced biodiversity loss more severely than the Heartland,” said David Parsons, a wildlife scientist with Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute. “Rewilding habitats and reversing the loss of native species throughout the Mississippi River watershed is critical to restoring naturally functioning ecosystems and at the same time addressing the vexing issue of climate change.”

“We already know that Midwesterners love their nature, but Heartland Rewilding is helping them better appreciate how important it is to the world, and to understand the beauty and importance of the Mississippi watershed,” said Dennis Liu, vice president of education at the Half-Earth Project, a project of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. “People, food production, and biodiversity can coexist; in fact, for our own good, they must coexist. Heartland Rewilding is pointing the way.”

Heartland Rewilding aims to work with a network of environmental organizations and government agencies to provide the strategy, staff, and resources needed to protect wildlife and advocate for reform in conservation policies and practices using sound science. The initiative will build a framework for rewilding large landscapes across the entire Mississippi River watershed, which spans from New York to Montana and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Heartland Rewilding’s first three projects will focus on the Loess Hills of Iowa and Nebraska, the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, and the Missouri Ozarks. These landscape regions, identified through previous work done by The Rewilding Institute, contain pockets of habitat and serve as unprotected corridors for wildlife throughout the central Midwest. Rewilding these regions is critical to Heartland Rewilding’s success. 

“Working across the world’s fourth largest watershed will be challenging,” said Kelly Borgmann, Heartland Rewilding’s coexistence coordinator. “This area is geographically and politically diverse. But Midwesterners will meet these challenges head on to provide solutions for the environmental crisis we all face today. We know we are stronger together.” 

World Rivers Day celebrates the immense value of our rivers and waterways and is meant to bring awareness to their stewardship. Rivers in the Midwest provide a vital network of habitat and corridors for wildlife. Heartland Rewilding will work to improve the health of Midwestern rivers, soil, and air for the benefit of people and wildlife.


Heartland Rewilding is an initiative of Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute in partnership with the Half-Earth Project. The initiative’s goal is to reconnect and rewild Midwestern lands and to promote compassionate and respectful coexistence across the Mississippi River watershed through advocacy and education. 

Project Coyote, a project of Earth Island Institute, is a North American coalition of scientists, educators, conservationists, and community leaders promoting compassionate conservation and coexistence between humans and wildlife through education, science, and advocacy. 

The Rewilding Institute is a national, nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to developing and promoting the ideas and strategies to advance continental-scale conservation in North America and beyond, particularly the need for large carnivores and a permeable landscape for their movement, and to offer a bold, scientifically-credible, practically achievable, and hopeful vision for the future of wild Nature and human civilization. 

The Half-Earth Project is an initiative of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation fosters a knowing stewardship of our world through biodiversity research and education initiatives that promote and inform worldwide preservation of our biological heritage. 

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Jeff Hoffman - September 23, 2022

Rewilding is what needs to be done! Thanks much to all who work on this.

That said, we have a big problem regarding rewilding: So much of the Earth is occupied by humans, their agriculture, and their infrastructure, there are very few places to rewild. In the Midwest, a agriculture has destroyed most of the land. We need to remove agriculture from a lot of land so that the native plants & animals can be restored. This problem shows that human overpopulation is one of the roots of these problems.

Just something to think about. I couldn’t support rewilding more, but we need to stay realistic in order to identify the roots of the problems so we can properly address them. Some of these solutions are very long-term, because the problems have been festering for a long time, and we need to consider all this when making decisions.

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Mary - September 24, 2022

This sounds like a wonderful opportunity to define and protect wildlife corridors for pollinators, birds, frogs, turtles, et al. so populations will remain viable. Love it!

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