After scouting in 2011 and 2013 the Atlantic/Appalachian and Spine of the Continent Wildways proposed by Dave Foreman in his landmark book Rewilding North America, I shared some of what friends and colleagues had taught me along the way, in the book Big, Wild, and Connected: Scouting an Eastern Wildway from Florida to Quebec and in the film Born to Rewild. However, I ramble almost as much in my writing and speaking as in my trekking, so my points were partly lost in the woods. Moreover, when we convinced Dave to do a second, expanded edition of Rewilding North America (“Daughter of RNA”, being Dave’s affectionate name for the project), I promised Dave to summarize what seemed to me to emerge from those ground-truthing treks as the basic steps toward a rewilded continent. I hope one of our poets will distill this down to simple appealing stanzas, or one of our illustrators will sketch this dry list into life. Meanwhile, still too long and discursive, below is my latest attempt to condense the lessons I’ve confirmed and some of the points Dave will be explaining in his upcoming second, expanded edition of Rewilding North America—which will be a blueprint for implementing the Nature Needs Half vision on our continent.
Speaking of RNA, we welcome increased assistance for the second edition of Dave’s landmark book, and for the associated Rewilding North America campaign. The Rewilding Institute is a lean team—a bit leaner than we’d care to be, while updating and expanding this continental rewilding effort. We always welcome your financial support, and we also seek volunteers who can help gather rewilding success stories, for us to share with readers and listeners, and emulate on the ground.
As we are about to post these Rambles on November 6, hotly contested elections are holding millions of Americans, including those of us at Rewilding Earth, in anxious suspense. We are guardedly hopeful that political leaders who appreciate public lands and wildlife conservation may take the presidency and vice-presidency—and our Healing Nature’s Wounds campaign becomes strongly salient. More definitely, it looks like Colorado voters have told their wildlife officials to restore the missing apex carnivore, the Wolf, to wilder parts of the state. This will be a big step ahead for rewilding; and we applaud Colorado’s and the country’s wildlife champions who achieved this great win. –John Davis, TRI Executive Director, Writing from Split Rock Wildway
Incrementally restoring our native biota
- Ask who is missing, and how we can help them return. Naturalists, scientists, and traditional elders can tell us who needs help. Especially important are top predators and other keystone species, like Wolf, Puma, Beaver, prairie dogs, salmon, eel, and mast-bearing trees. All native species deserve conservationists’ attention, however, and sometimes it is wise to start with relatively easy or uncontroversial species (as Rewilding Argentina has been strategically doing in Iberá, starting with Military Macaw and working up the trophic mountain toward Jaguar).
- Protect all public lands for wildlife habitat, climate stability, and quiet recreation (as advocated by John Muir Project, Heartwood, Dogwood Alliance, and many small tough conservation groups). The quickest way in North America to achieve a Half Earth vision (see natureneedshalf.org) is to give full protection to all federal, state, and provincial wildlands—which comprise more than half of our continent.
- Expand and reconnect parks, wilderness, wildways, and refuges. Begin by designating as Wilderness all road-free public lands, and piecing back together wildways linking big core reserves. (Study Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act advanced by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and America’s Redrock Wilderness Act advanced by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.)
- Reform wildlife governance. The mission of wildlife agencies should be to conserve and restore the full native biota, including large carnivores and other keystone species—not to maximize “game” numbers, as is now the convention with most wildlife agencies, which are dominated by “hook and bullet” and agriculture interests. A network to make wildlife governance more democratic and ecologically sound has begun to emerge in the name Wildlife For All. (See Southwest Environmental Center website and Rewilding Earth article “Why Hunting Is Not Conservation, and Why It Matters” by Kevin Bixby.)
- Defend wildlife and wildlands. Join and support frontline groups like Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Project Coyote, and the Center for Biological Diversity in their direct protection of our wild neighbors, terrestrial and aquatic.
- Foster wildlands philanthropy. Support land trusts and encourage people with surplus wealth to fund private conservation land acquisitions. (Read Tom Butler’s book WILDLANDS PHILANTHROPY: Private Wealth Saving Public Wildlands; and follow the Wildlands Philanthropy section in Rewilding Earth.)
- Reward private lands conservation. Replace taxes on raw land with extraction taxes; pay for ecosystem services and carbon sequestration. (Land Trust Alliance is the national network of land trusts in the US, and it advocates tax reforms that favor land conservation.)
- Put a high price on carbon. Tax carbon at points of extraction and emission, and use funds to conserve wildlands and install small-scale decentralized renewable energy infrastructure on already-developed lands. (350.org is a leader in this realm.)
- Install safe wildlife crossings. Study where animals are trying to cross busy roads, and there place wildlife overpasses and underpasses, with fencing guiding animals to these safe crossings. (Leading groups here include Western Transportation Institute and Wildlands Network.) Keep pushing the National Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act until it passes.
- Encourage small close families. Provide family planning technology and educate girls and empower women in culturally appropriate ways, for their own well-being but also to lower fertility rates. (Support Planned Parenthood. See the film 8 Billion Angels and support the groups it profiles.)
- Remove obsolete infrastructure. Practice ecological austerity. Inventory deadbeat dams, unneeded backcountry roads, wildlife-blocking fences, border walls, and other infrastructure that can be removed to the benefit of wildlife and taxpayers. (American Rivers amasses information on dams needing removal. See Patagonia’s film Dam Nation.)
- Learn and teach natural history and ecology, such as through tracking and botanizing workshops. Successful rewilding efforts usually depend on support of local people, often including native tribes, whose traditional ecological knowledge can be particularly helpful. (Follow Keeping Track, Northern Forest Atlas Project, Springs Stewardship Institute, and local wildflower and birding groups.)
- Monitor populations of reintroduced, recolonizing, and imperiled species. Here again track & sign surveys help understand the travel ways and status of wildlife, even while better connecting people with their wild neighbors. (Again, Keeping Track is a national leader; in Southwest, Sky Islands Alliance is a regional leader.)
- Fund peace, not war. Shift money from military expenditures to restorative work. (Go Greenpeace!)
- Create restoration economies. Foster businesses that provide jobs through ecological restoration, wildlife watching, natural history, home weatherization, eco-friendly and affordable alternative housing, and quiet recreation. (See work of Foundation Earth. Among promising for-profit businesses in this area is Biohabitats.)
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 email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org (for his land-care work).