Rewilding North America
The Wildlands Project was started in 1991 by a group of scientists and environmental activists who believe that existing parks, wildernesses, and reserves are failing to protect the native plants and animals of North America. The Wildlands Project combines science and advocacy to create and implement a vision for a healthy landscape in North America. Aldo Leopold, a co-founder of the Wilderness Society, developed the metaphor of land health. In Sand County Almanac he wrote "Health is the capacity of the land for self renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity."
The Sky Islands Wilderness Network plan is the first fruit of the Wildlands Project. The Sky Islands are a group of mountain ranges in southern New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico that are isolated from each other by intervening valleys of grasslands and deserts. This area, roughly the size of the state of Illinois, is relatively undeveloped and still has much of its original diversity. The extraordinary biological diversity of the Sky Islands occurred in part because this is the meeting point of temperate North America and the subtropics. The jaguar is gone from most of its former range in the U.S. as is the thick billed parrot, but there are still 104 species of mammals in the area, 2,500 species of flowering plants, and more than one half of all the species of birds in North America.
The Sky Islands Network plan is to enlarge and connect wild areas in order to restore ecological function; that is, to allow plants and animals in protected core areas to exchange individuals (and genes) with nearby core areas. We spoke with Dave Forman, a co-founder of the Wildlands Project, about the Sky Islands initiative.