The North American Wildlands Network: Four
(Adapted from Rewilding North America)
How do we protect and restore connected habitat so that wolves,
mountain lions, and other wide-ranging species that do not prosper
in close proximity to humans have populations linked throughout
How do we do this in the simplest, most practical way?
In other words, what is the minimum required to rewild North
America? Aldo Leopold warned that the first rule of intelligent
tinkering is to keep all the cogs and wheels. For rewilding North
America, we need to find or restore some of the cogs and wheels
we've already tossed into the dustbin. We also need to redraw the
lost blueprint of a wild North America so we know how to put the
cogs and wheels back together again.
From the standpoint of continental conservation and
rewilding, The Rewilding Institute looks at North America in shades
of landscape permeability: the degree to which the land is open and
safe for the movement of large carnivores and other wide-ranging and
sensitive species between large core habitats. In much of the tundra
and boreal forest of Alaska and northern Canada, the land is mostly
wild, with essentially undisturbed native vegetation, landscape
permeability, and all native species, including carnivores and large
ungulates, in something close to their natural populations.
However, even here, poorly regulated trapping, wolf
extermination programs, and excessive subsistence hunting have
altered the natural system over wide areas. Moreover, oil and gas
exploitation, mining, and boreal-forest clearcuts as far as the eye
can see have ripped away the wildness of the land in many places.
Indeed, Alberta's nineteenth-century-style resource looting is being
carried out today with head-spinning gusto and could largely
fracture landscape permeability in the northern (boreal) half of
South of the boreal forest, most of western Canada and a good bit of
the western United States retain landscape permeability to a fair
degree. For example, mountain lions are able to move through the
majority of the region north to south and east to west. Were they
not shot on sight by wannabe frontiersmen, wolves could similarly
travel over the same territory. Permeability is not so good for
grizzlies, wolverines, and bighorn sheep. To a lesser degree, parts
of the Upper Great Lakes region, Florida, Appalachians, northern New
England and New York, and the Canadian Maritimes retain some
landscape permeability and could have it restored to a higher
degree. Some mountainous and tropical forest regions of Mexico and
Central America also retain fair landscape permeability.
Throughout these places, however, there are large domesticated
regions and major barriers to wildlife movement. Nearly everywhere,
wildness wanes: the land becomes more domesticated and less
permeable to wildlife movement. Nonetheless, the regions above are
the parts of North America that realistically could be considered
for rewilding (or kept wild). Public lands or large private
landholdings, ruggedness of terrain, natural vegetation, low road
density, and low human population density generally characterize the
areas most suitable for rewilding.
This does not mean that conservationists should ignore the more
domesticated and fragmented parts of North America. The existing
approach to nature reserve protection and restoration must continue,
with an emphasis on ecosystem representation and special elements of
biodiversity, and a more ambitious vision. Domesticated regions of
North America, such as the Tennessee River system, hold much of the
most imperiled biological diversity on the continent.
The concept of habitat corridors through a hostile sea remains
highly applicable to such areas. The approaches for conservation
area design shift from areas of high domestication and low
permeability to areas of low domestication and high permeability.
Additionally, there may be other areas, such as the northern Great
Plains, that could be rewilded in the future. But, it is simply
common sense to acknowledge that wolves are not soon going to be
chasing bison across Iowa or north Texas, no matter how much we may
The Rewilding Institute believes that the minimum for rewilding
North America is protection and restoration of Four Continental
MegaLinkages as shown in Map A.
Pacific MegaLinkage: From the high mountains of northern Baja
California up the southern Coast Range to the Sierra Nevada and
Cascades, and then up the Coast Range of British Columbia into
Spine Of The Continent MegaLinkage: From the volcanic
cordillera of Central America up the Sierra Madre Occidental to the
Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada, then into the
MacKenzie Mountains of the Yukon and across the Brooks Range of
Atlantic MegaLinkage: From the Everglades to Okefenokee, and
then to the Appalachians (including the geologically distinct
Adirondacks) into the Canadian Maritimes.
Arctic-Boreal MegaLinkage: Northern North America from Alaska
across to Quebec and Labrador with a dip down into the Upper Great
Map B is a schematic map of the Pacific and Spine of the Continent
MegaLinkages in the western United States linking the largest wild
cores and core complexes. These existing and proposed protected
areas are made up of wildlands of 500,000 acres or more with
relatively insignificant internal fragmentation; lightly traveled
roads, campgrounds, national park facilities, ranch headquarters,
and the like may be present. Separate core complexes are shown
adjacent when more troublesome barriers—such as heavily traveled
roads, villages, agricultural landscapes, intensive timber
cutting—lie between them.
The linkages include many smaller cores and core complexes. These
linkages seem the most logical method of connecting the cores: the
lands are reasonably permeable with mostly natural vegetation, they
comprise a high percentage of public land or private land in
conservation ownership, and they are of continental importance.
The map shown here is a bare bones, simplified map that leaves out
some less vital linkages, which have been or will be included in
more detailed wildlands network designs, and that leaves out much of
the landscape permeability on public lands that will provide
essential connectivity. Also left out are many large cores and core
complexes along with linkages that will form wildlands networks for
parts of the West that, while extremely important in and of
themselves, are not as critical for continental wildlife movement.
This map is of the western United States and adjacent Mexico and
Canada only, because necessary information does not yet exist to do
equally accurate maps for Mexico and Canada. The map is illustrative
and tentative, not definitive.
The Atlantic MegaLinkage is similarly designed, but not mapped at
this time. It uses cores and core complexes of 100,000 acres or
more. In general these cores are less wild than those in the West
and will require more restoration, as will linkages between them.
For a list of possible cores for the Pacific, Spine, and Atlantic
MegaLinkages, CLICK HERE.
The Arctic-Boreal MegaLinkage is unmapped because of the lack of a
comprehensive protected areas proposal in Canada at this time.
Canadians are now working on a vision to protect the boreal forest
and for additional protected areas on the tundra. As they are
developed, maps of the other MegaLinkages will be posted here.
With the Pacific, Spine of the Continent, and Atlantic MegaLinkages
running south-north, they not only follow the natural lay of the
land, but allow for species movement north in response to climate
Although the tundra and the boreal forest are the wildest and most
intact part of the North American Wildlands Network, they may not be
so for much longer. The planned destruction and domestication of
Canada's boreal forest by vast and widespread timber mining (it
isn't forestry) and oil, gas, and oil sand extraction is one of the
most important conservation issues in the world. Boreal forests are
particularly vulnerable to industrialization because they have very
low productivity and take a long time to grow to maturity. The
Arctic tundra of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are wide-open
for a diamond mining frenzy. As we conservationists work on
rewilding other parts of North America, we must work very hard to
keep Canada's north wild. The same is true for Alaska.
The MegaLinkage map is
based on a variety of proposals and research by conservation groups,
conservation biologists, and government agencies. Nonetheless, it is
rough. The Rewilding Institute plans to hold meetings for each
MegaLinkage to map them in greater detail and to develop strategies
to advance protection and restoration of the MegaLinkages. Check
this website for updates.
(Adapted and condensed
from Rewilding North America by Dave Foreman [Chapter 8].
Copyright © 2004 by the author. Reproduced by permission of Island
Press, Washington, D.C.)
America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century
by Dave Foreman (Island Press 2004).
Order from The Rewilding Institute.
Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks
edited by Michael E. Soulè and John Terborgh (Island Press
1999). Particularly Chapter 8 “Why We Need Mega-Reserves.”
from The Rewilding Institute.
Available in a book
John Terborgh and
Michael Soulè, “Why We Need Mega-Reserves—and How to Design Them,”
Chapter 8 in Continental Conservation.
Dave Foreman, “Unit Names of Large Core Complexes in the Pacific,
Spine, and Appalachian MegaLinkages.”