The survival of many species and the very process of evolution depend on large blocks of wild land where natural processes can take place untrammeled. Yet the growth of human population creates a tendency to develop and exploit those areas.
So much of our world depends on the wild. A study of ecosystem services provided by wild nature found that their value, conservatively estimated, topped $30 trillion per year. In addition, the health of earth's living systems, of which humans are a part, depends on the diversity of ecosystems, the species that comprise them, and their genetic variability. This diversity lends resilience to life on earth in the face of changing climatic conditions and offers people a rich store of foods and pharmaceuticals, as well as creatures we might appreciate for their aesthetic merit or simply their intrinsic right to exist alongside us.
Landscape ecology demonstrates that biodiversity can only be maintained by a network of core reserves that is well-connected by wildlife corridors and surrounded by protective buffer zones. Core reserves should be large enough to provide functional habitat for the creatures that inhabit them. Where necessary, they should be re-wilded, with top predators and critical "keystone" species reintroduced. They should receive the highest possible wilderness designation (e.g. National Parks, Wilderness Areas), with minimal impact forms of recreation. A network of core reserves should include representation from all levels of biodiversity, including populations, species, and landscapes. It should include terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.
However, even the largest core reserves cannot provide for ongoing evolutionary processes unless they are connected by wildlife corridors. For instance, grizzly bears require up to 100 square miles of habitat, and a genetically viable population consists of at least 500 animals. Such corridors allow species to search for food, disperse into new territory after natural disturbances, and breed. Finally, the core reserves and wildlife corridors should be surrounded by buffer zones that contain uses compatible with wildlife, including subsistence gathering, cultural activities, and certain forms of agriculture or forestry.
The network of connected wildlands forms the wild evolutionary backbone of the bioregion, and in turn connects out to a continental-scale network of wildlands. The scale of these networks is breathtaking, sweeping for hundreds of miles. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is attempting to maintain a system of connected wildlands along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, all the way from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Canadian Yukon. The more recent Rainforest to Rockies Conservation Initiative seeks to connect the Coast and Cascades Ranges of Washington and Oregon with the Rockies.
Establish networks of connected wildlands that radiate out from core reserves with highly restricted uses to buffer zones where people pursue livelihoods subject to an etiquette that honors the needs of the wild. Weave these areas together by providing wildlife corridors so that animals and plants can disperse effectively.
Examples of this pattern in action:
The Klamath-Siskiyou Biodiversity Conservation Plan
A plan for a connected wildlands network throughout one of North America's biodiversity "hot-spots" the Klamath-Siskiyou.
Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
Trying to create a 2,000 mile connected wildlands corridor along the Rocky Mountains from the heart of Yellowstone to the Yukon.
Kowesas Watershed Assessment report is intended to provide some important signposts on the path to protecting the Kowesas. It is a multi-disciplinary effort to assess the cultural and natural values of the 40,494-hectare (100,000-acre) valley, including a summary of the findings of a team of scientists, who spent a field season in the watershed last year. The Kowesas River is a glistening, glacier-fed artery that feeds into the milky green waters of the Kowesas estuary. It is one of only 15 rivers in the province that sustain a significant oolichan run. Of these streams, only the Kowesas and the Kitlope are not affected to some degree by logging or industrial activity. Six species of salmonids occur in its cold waters, and the system is home to populations of grizzly and black bear. In all, at least 127 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds call the place home. Culturally modified trees that date back 395 years, along with Haisla Nation oral histories the extend even further back in time, indicate that people have also found a home in the Kowesas for several thousand years.
Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:
Grumbine, R. Edward. Ghost Bears: Exploring the Biodiversity Crisis. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1993.
Soule, Michael E, ed and John Terborgh. Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1999.