The Earth First! Wilderness Preserve System
Featured Image: Brazos Cliff, Tusas Mountains, New Mexico © John Miles
By Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, Bart Koehler & Shaaron Netherton
EDITOR’S INTRODUCTION From Wild Earth, Volume 1, No. 1. (Spring 1991) pp. 33-34.
“The Earth First! Wilderness Preserve System” was developed beginning in 1980 by Dave Foreman, Howie Wolke, and Bart Koehler and first presented in the June 1983 issue of Earth First! The proposal has been edited slightly for this issue of Wild Earth but is presented essentially as originally printed. It is an historical document. The proposal was one of the first Earth First! projects. It anticipates by several years the work of most conservation biologists. In 1980 very few biologists were speaking of the need to preserve large inviolate wild areas in order to protect biodiversity. Now many are, and conservation biology is blossoming into a major force in the effort to prevent the untimely and anthropogenic end of the Cenozoic Era.
Obviously, given the great advances in island biogeography and other sub-disciplines of conservation biology made in recent years, if this proposal were being presented today it would look somewhat different. A few of the likely changes are these:
Fewer developed corridors would be allowed. Conservation biologists now realize that some species, in particular large carnivores (Grizzly Bear being a prime example) and raptors, range over vast territories and are very sensitive to human intrusions. In contrast to what this proposal suggests, roads to Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake, for instance, would be closed or left open only for non-motorized transport (bicycles, feet).
The number of reserves would probably be doubled at least. The East is poorly represented in this proposal, in part because it is so over-developed, of course; but also because Dave, Howie, and Bart were most familiar with the West. Now we would see on the map a huge dark blob over northern New England and New York (perhaps 30 million acres); much larger preserves in the Central and Southern Appalachians; more preserves and corridors in Florida; stepping stone preserves in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, the Finger Lakes of Western New York, and Catskills of eastern New York, the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, the Red River Gorge and Rockcastle River area of eastern Kentucky, and elsewhere (I display my own bias here — for the Northeast.) More coastal and off-shore areas would be included.
International preserves would be added. Many border ecosystems – the Wild Rockies, the Sky Islands and Sonoran Desert of the Southwest, the Northern Transition forests, and others – still retain wildness on both sides of the United States/Canada or US/Mexico border.
In short, when the Earth First! Cofounders’ proposal is next presented, it will be greatly refined and expanded. It may also be a book. Wild Earth will facilitate development of a continental proposal by running regional Wilderness proposals from throughout North America. We encourage you to develop or refine proposals for your bioregion and send them to us. For now, starting with the map at the top of this page is the original EF! Plan.
~ John Davis, writing from New York’s great Adirondack Park
PS Two decades later, in spring 2020, we Rewilding Earth editors note that this map helps show how the Half Earth, or Nature Needs Half, goal could be implemented in North America. Dave Foreman is now working on a second edition of his classic book Rewilding North America, which (even more than the first edition) will describe how we can protect and restore at least half of North America’s lands and waters as Nature reserves. –JD
John Davis is executive director of The Rewilding Institute and editor of Rewilding Earth. For Rewilding, he serves as a wildways scout, editor, interviewer, and writer. He rounds out his living with conservation field work, particularly within New York’s Adirondack Park, where he lives. John serves on boards of RESTORE: The North Woods, Eddy Foundation, Champlain Area Trails, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, and Algonquin to Adirondack Conservation Collaborative.
John served as editor of Wild Earth journal from 1991-96, when he went to work for the Foundation for Deep Ecology, overseeing their Biodiversity and Wildness grants program from 1997-2002. He then joined the Eddy Foundation as a board member and continues to serve as volunteer land steward for that foundation in its work to conserve lands in Split Rock Wildway. This wildlife corridor links New York’s Champlain Valley with the Adirondack High Peaks via the West Champlain Hills. John served as conservation director of the Adirondack Council from 2005 to 2010.
In 2011, John completed TrekEast, a 7600-mile muscle-powered exploration of wilder parts of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada—sponsored by Wildlands Network and following lines suggested in Dave Foreman’s book Rewilding North America—to promote restoration and protection of an Eastern Wildway. In 2012, John wrote a book about that adventure, Big, Wild, and Connected: Scouting an Eastern Wildway from Florida to Quebec, published by Island Press.
In 2013, John trekked from Sonora, Mexico, north along the Spine of the Continent as far as southern British Columbia, Canada, again ground-truthing Rewilding North America and promoting habitat connections, big wild cores, and apex predators—all of which would be well served by fuller protection of the Western Wildway he explored. John continues to work with many conservation groups to protect and reconnect wild habitats regionally and continentally.
John is available to give public talks on rewilding, conservation exploration, and continental wildways, as well as to write and edit on these subjects. He is also available for contract field work, particularly monitoring conservation easements, documenting threats to wildlands, and marking conservation boundaries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com (for his land-care work).