John Davis Envisions Re-establishing Wildlife Corridors Across North America
Environmentalist embarks on 5,000-mile trek across the West to highlight the importance of habitat connectivity
John Davis is no stranger to long journeys. In 2011 he traveled by bike, boat, and foot from Southern Florida to the Canadian Maritimes to promote the creation of an eastern wildway — a continental scale conservation effort that would connect large protected habitats and allow for the reintroduction and movement of top predators like wolves and cougars. A vision of immense importance it is also one that can seem nearly impossible to enact. How does one even begin to create a wildway in close proximity to some of the most densely populated areas in North America? What about the thousands of miles of roads that act as lethal barriers to wildlife migration? And the no less significant social and cultural barriers to predator reintroduction? It was in part Davis’s desire to answer some of these questions and to map out the contours of an eastern wildway that pushed him to embark on the 7,000-mile journey, also known as TrekEast.
Photo by Susan Baycot Davis
Two years later Davis has set out to do the same for the western United States and Northern Mexico. On February 7, a send off event in Hermosilla, Sonora, part of the Northern Jaguar Reserve, marked the beginning of the 5,000-mile trek that will make its way through parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and eventually British Columbia (You can see a map of the trail here). Davis’s goals are similar: to highlight the importance of habitat connectivity in restoring the planet’s biodiversity, to map out a western wildway, and to bring together conservationists of all stripes, from ecologists and outdoor enthusiasts to ranchers and cattle farmers, who are already working to realize such a vision. Is it possible?
Last spring I met Davis in the Adirondacks for a story on rewilding that appears in the current issue of Earth Island Journal and asked him that very question. He told me that after he completed the 7,000 mile TrekEast he came away “cautiously optimistic” that an eastern wildway was in fact possible. Davis is hardly an idle dreamer. He has worked as an environmental advocate for decades. He was an early member of EarthFirst! and edited their journal in the late 1980s. Following the crackdown on that organization he moved back east and became involved with the Wildlands Project, one of the first groups to promote the reintroduction of keystone species and large scale conservation planning. From 1990 to 1997 he edited Wild Earth magazine, which helped to pioneer many of the ideas, including rewilding, that are just now beginning to enter mainstream discourse. Which is to say Davis knows what the challenges are. He knows the grim forecasts and the deep ecological crisis we face.
But he sees rewilding and the creation of a network of mega-linkages or wildways (there are four: the Pacific, Spine of the Continent, Atlantic, and Arctic-Boreal) in North America as perhaps the best way to refashion our relationship with the natural world and to repair the ecological wounds of the last few centuries. As Dave Foreman, one of the early advocates of rewilding and a good friend of Davis’s put it in his 2004 book Rewilding North America, “Such a vision does not shoulder aside nor downplay the need for vigilant and uncompromising defenses against schemes to domesticate the whole earth, but it adds a positive blueprint for all conservation work, a context for wildlands and wildlife defense. This vision stands out because it is bold, scientifically credible, practically achievable, and hopeful.” You can find out more about Davis’s trip and how you can get involved at the Wildlands Network website.