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Rewilding Expansion

In addressing the extinction and related climate crises, we must do everything, and it won’t be enough, to paraphrase climate justice champion Bill McKibben.  The Rewilding Institute in 2022 is a lean but growing team of ten staff and contractors, a dozen fiercely devoted board members, and a few score Rewilding Leadership Council advisors.  With our modest budget, we must focus where we can do the most good for wild places and creatures.

In this occasional report from a wildways scout, I’ll quickly summarize where we’ve agreed to concentrate The Rewilding Institute’s energies, while keeping in mind the larger goal of protecting at least half of Earth’s lands and waters as natural habitats. With all these initiatives, additional volunteer help and financial donations are needed, so please contact us if interested.

Rewilding Earth, on-line pub and podcast – We aim to become the forum for all things rewilding across North America, and a rich source also for rewilding stories and visions from other continents. With generous support and expert advice from Biohabitats, we are producing a special series of podcasts on ecological restoration, including dam removal.  With generous support from Kahtoola, we are focusing several podcasts on Mogollon Wildway (see below).

Rewilding Successes – Closely related to and overlapping our Rewilding Earth work is our project with The Ecological Citizen, Global Rewilding Alliance, and regional partners to gather and share rewilding success stories from around the world.  In this global effort to share inspiration and lessons, TRI staff will focus on gathering North American stories, while rewilding.org will cross-link to stories from abroad.  Stories will soon be posted at The Ecological Citizen.  If you have a rewilding success story to share (protected area creation or expansion, wildlife reintroduction, dam or road removal, wildlife crossing installed …), please send us 500-1000 words with a good photo or two and a map if appropriate; and we’ll help broadcast your good work for the wild.

Mogollon Wildway – This critical wildlife corridor within the much larger Spine of the Continent Wildway links the Gila/Blue Range wildlands complex in southwest New Mexico with the Grand Canyon wildlands complex in northern Arizona.  The habitat connection then continues north via the Grand Staircase to Bryce Canyon National Park and beyond.  While much of the area is federal or tribal land, most of the regional wildway does not have strong and permanent ecological protection.

Groups critical to success here include native tribes, Wild Arizona, New Mexico Wild, Lobos of the Southwest, Project Coyote, Round River Conservation Studies, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild Earth Guardians, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness.  Collectively, we need to secure this swath of upper elevation forest across the desert Southwest, and advocate especially for the protection and recovery of such wide-ranging and keystone species as Mexican Wolf, Jaguar, Puma, Black Bear, Pronghorn, Apache Goshawk, Mexican Spotted Owl, and Gila and Apache Trout.

Specific steps in the Mogollon project will include charting a Lobo National Scenic Trail to promote conservation of the corridor; the release of additional captive Mexican Wolves; removal of key sections of the US/Mexico border wall to the south; expansion of existing Wilderness Areas and creating new ones on National Forest and Interior Department lands; winning Wild & Scenic designation for intact stretches of the Gila, Blue, San Francisco, Verde, and Little Colorado Rivers; retiring livestock grazing allotments; gaining National Monument status for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, or integration of the area into Grand Canyon National Park; and restoring Jaguars to the Wildway.

Heartland Rewilding – Geographically, this is our grandest initiative, encompassing all of the Mississippi River watershed, and hence much of North America.  This long-term effort will be conducted in close collaboration with BeWildReWild, Project Coyote, and EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation to encourage coexistence with the full range of wildlife, including top carnivores, and advocate for the protection and restoration of wild cores and corridors and installation of safe wildlife crossings on busy roads.  Our initial focal core areas will be the Ozarks, Loess Hills, and Driftless Plains, while also promoting large-scale rewilding of depopulating parts of the Shortgrass Prairie.  Project Coyote and TRI have together added two new staff members, Kelly Borgmann and Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila, to advance Heartland Rewilding work.

Action steps include mapping a rewilding vision for the Mississippi River watershed; promoting economic incentives to retire and rewild marginal farmlands, especially in floodplains and on steep slopes; training carnivore-friendly communities; working with land trusts and advocacy groups to save key wildlands in the Ozarks, Loess Hills, and Driftless; linking Heartland work with complementary rewilding work by the Superior BioConservancy to the north and Southern Plains Land Trust and American Prairie Reserve to the west; making government conservation programs, like the Conservation Reserve Program, more permanent and ecologically sound; and reforming wildlife governance, to make it more biocentric and democratic, in the many states and provinces containing parts of the Mississippi watershed.

Adirondack Wildways – Rewilding efforts in the region have long been conducted alongside Adirondack Council, A2A Collaborative, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Adirondack Land Trust, Champlain Area Trails, Eddy Foundation, and other allies working to achieve permanent land protection status and secure critical wildlife corridors.

In Split Rock Wildway, linking Lake Champlain with New York’s Adirondack High Peaks, we’ve helped secure protection already of about half of the 15,000 acres central to this wildlife corridor, largely by assisting land trusts in identifying parcels for purchase or conservation easements.  We continue to explore options for the Algonquin Park to Adirondack Park (A2A) connection, which will have to occur across largely unprotected areas between the two great parks and involve the installation of safe wildlife crossings, especially on the busy roads near the Canada/US border. We are also advocating for the removal of derelict dams and restoration of floodplains and shorelines along key waterways across Adirondack Park and beyond, for the benefit of trout, salmon, eels, and other aquatic wildlife.

Puma Recovery for Eastern Wildways – As our founder Dave Foreman noted long ago, if there’s one ideal flagship species for creating an Atlantic/Appalachian Wildway, it is the Puma, or Cougar, or Panther as it is called in its last eastern stronghold, South Florida.  The partially recovering Eastern Deciduous Forest is hungry for Pumas, with many areas being almost literally browsed to the ground by unnaturally abundant Whitetail Deer populations.  Pumas seem unlikely to recolonize much of the East without help because the nearest potential source populations, in Florida and the Dakotas, are separated by too many roads, development, and guns.  Gaining the political support needed to assist Pumas in recolonizing wilder parts of the East depends on widespread education of landowners and outdoor recreationists and reform of state wildlife governance agencies.

Western Carnivore Advocacy – TRI and Project Coyote’s recent shared hiring of Renee Seacor as Carnivore Conservation Advocate will support and expand the work of our Carnivore Conservation Biologist Dave Parsons. We will focus especially on Wolf and other carnivore protection and recovery across the West, including by expanding the recovery area of the Mexican Wolf (Lobo) and ensuring that Wolves have the land and corridors they need to disperse and find new mates, for example in western Colorado, where Wolves are soon to be reintroduced.  We will also continue advocating for the removal of key sections of the border wall; restoring Jaguars north of the border; curtailing killing seasons on top carnivores, including Pumas (which have full protection only in California and Florida); working to ban wildlife killing contests state by state; and supporting the emerging Wildlife For All coalition.

Wildlife Governance Reform – TRI’s Carnivore Conservation Biologist Dave Parsons and late great Wildlands Coordinator Kim Crumbo helped inform the creation of the new and fast-growing Wildlife For All coalition, which advocates reform of state-level wildlife management policies and agencies, to ensure greater protection of biodiversity and representation of more diverse conservation interests. We now need to determine how to engage in efforts in those states where we have staff and board and leadership council members, such as New Mexico, Colorado, New York, and Vermont.  The addition of another scientist to our staff – potentially, esteemed conservation biologist Reed Noss, if we can raise needed funds – will allow TRI to more widely challenge agency actions.

Rewilding Science – Rewilding is largely based in ethics and aesthetics: Wild creatures and places have intrinsic value and beauty, and humans have a moral obligation to allow them to exist and thrive.  Rewilding is also grounded in ecology and conservation science.  Currently, increasing attention is being given to ambitious conservation goals, notably to protect at least half the Earth’s lands and waters (the Half Earth movement), and to gain such protection on at least 30% of Earth’s surface by 2030 (an effort known as 30×30, or in the US the America the Beautiful initiative).  TRI is seeking to establish the position of Rewilding Scientist to strengthen and advance current conservation efforts by promoting key scientific concepts and goals both within TRI and as part of an expanding circle of rewilding scientists and advocates.

Partnerships – The Rewilding Institute exists to serve wild creatures and places and the groups who defend them.  Groups and coalitions we assist or promote include Project Coyote, Wild Arizona, New Mexico Wild, Adirondack Council, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Algonquin to Adirondack Conservation Collaborative, Wildlife For All, Wildlands Network, Highlands Nature Sanctuary, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Round River Conservation Studies, The Ecological Citizen, and Global Rewilding Alliance. Examples of our collaborative projects include the afore-mentioned Heartland Rewilding work shared with Project Coyote, BeWildReWild, and EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation; a series of California Rewilding summits convened by Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and TRI; the Carnivore Conservation Associate position shared with Project Coyote; the Mogollon Wildway initiative co-led with Wild Arizona and New Mexico Wild; dam removal and species recovery efforts in Adirondack Park with Adirondack Council; a Rewilding documentary directed by GroundStorm; the Rewilding Successes platform being created with The Ecological Citizen and Global Rewilding Alliance; and Split Rock Wildway, being pieced together with several land trusts.

If you or a group you support has a rewilding project that could benefit from increased publicity, please contact us.  We work hard to put rewilding principles on the ground and to spread far & wide the lessons from successful efforts to safeguard the homes of our wild neighbors.

–John Davis, for the TRI team, writing from Split Rock Wildway, spring 2022

Spread Rewilding Around the Globe!

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