Split Rock Wildway, Part Three:  Half Way Home

By John Davis, Rewilding Earth editor, Split Rock Wildway steward
John Davis

John Davis

As with so many wildlife connection efforts around the country, protection of Split Rock Wildway is far from complete.  Judging by the teachings of the Wildlands Network, Rewilding Institute, and Keeping Track, for the long-term viability of this vital wildlife corridor, about 15,000 continuous acres from Split Rock to the Jay Range need protection.  So far, the state, Open Space Institute, Adirondack Land Trust, Eddy Foundation, Northeast Wilderness Trust, Champlain Area Trails and conservation-minded families have collectively conserved more than 7000 acres.  Needed steps now include the state and land trusts acquiring strong conservation easements – or full-fee if available – on major holdings in the area; creating a revolving loan fund or land acquisition endowment, to secure critical properties that go on the market, including any sizable lands around Coon and Boquet Mountains; fostering farming with the wild principles (www.wildfarmalliance.org) and ecological forestry standards (www.protectadks.org) for worked lands in the area; and completing the footpath system that will link local villages and enhance the recreational economy.
(c) Matt Foley

(c) Matt Foley

Champlain Area Trails (CATS; www.champlainareatrails.com) has lately at least tripled trail mileage in the Wildway – carefully routing paths so as to afford hikers and skiers scenic views but not disturb sensitive habitat – and has most of a trail linking Westport and Essex in place.  Eddy Foundation (www.theeddy.org) has recently opened a green cemetery to give families a way to bury their loved ones in an environmentally friendly way and at the same time support land conservation in the area (see Dying Green article in Rewilding Earth).
Sanderling (c) Darren Burkey

Sanderling (c) Darren Burkey

Steps to implementing the wild vision in other areas are similar, though varying by geography and land ownership patterns.  While I was trekking the Spine of the Continent (TrekWest) in 2013, wildways advocates in New Mexico showed me a beautiful mosaic they had helped local school kids create, which depicted members of the natural community and their habitats, and added the mosaic to the jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor for how to complete a wildway.  Protecting a wild place is a bit like crafting a mosaic: adding piece to beautiful piece.

Lynx (c) Darren Burkey

Lynx (c) Darren Burkey

The Rewilding Institute has adopted Split Rock Wildway as a prototype grassroots wildlife corridor protection effort, and is helping coordinate conservation efforts here.  TRI is working with local and regional land trusts and conservation advocacy and education organizations to put in place the remaining pieces of this wildland mosaic.

Raven (c) Susan Morgan

Keeping Track has trained groups to conduct track and sign surveys, to see where our focal species – Black Bear, Bobcat, Fisher, Mink, River Otter, and Coyote – are moving, or trying to move.  Northeast Wilderness Trust, Adirondack Land Trust, CATS, and other land trusts are raising money to acquire additional parcels.  The Adirondack Council and other advocacy groups are watch-dogging Split Rock Wild Forest, and other state lands, to see that they are given the Constitutionally-guaranteed Forever Wild protection.  Wildlife Conservation Society and Nature Conservancy have documented the importance of natural communities in the West Champlain Hills, through which Split Rock Wildway reaches. Wildlands Network completed its regional Wildlands Network Design for the larger Northern Appalachian region several years ago; and more recently, Northeast Wilderness Trust conducted GIS analyses to look in more detail at critical habitats and pinch-points in Split Rock Wildway.  The Rewilding Institute and other groups will be urging transportation officials to implement lower speed limits and install safe wildlife crossings in areas of heavy road-kill (roads here, as in most of US, being the leading cause of habitat fragmentation and wildlife loss).
American Black Bear (c) MasterImages

American Black Bear (c) MasterImages

In sum, the larger Adirondack Park in which Split Rock Wildway almost miraculously survives is a bundle and history of opportunities and paradoxes, all making it a continental conservation priority.  Split Rock Wildway is among the most promising wildlife corridors in this wildest landscape in the most influential state of the most powerful nation on Earth!  By completing this wildlife corridor, conservationists can inspire restoration of continent-wide conservation and recreation corridors.

Gray Fox (c) MasterImages

Gray Fox (c) MasterImages

The looming challenge – in Split Rock Wildway, and in many other of North America’s most hopeful places — is to find financial and other incentives so that conservation-minded landowners can protect the natural beauty they legally possess, and to inspire residents to get out and explore and extoll wild places. Beneficiaries will be natural and human communities for this and future generations, including that Mama Bear’s great grand-cubs. We will know we are home safe when we the fresh fleeing tracks of a herd of Elk we are following into a snowy grove of American Chestnuts is met by the tracks of a stalking Puma teaching her cubs to hunt.

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Rewilding Earth gratefully acknowledges Larry Master, MasterImages, and Darren Burkey for their photographs and Matt Foley for his map of Split Rock Wildway. ~ editors
Split Rock Wildway series Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
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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 john@rewilding.org and hemlockrockconservation@gmail.com (for his land-care work).

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