Leaf Litter

Spotlight on Wildlands Network's Four North American "Wildways"

Conrad Reining of Wildlands Network describes efforts to establish four North American “Wildways.”

By Amy Nelson

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We are thrilled to shine Leaf Litter’s non-profit spotlight on an organization dedicated to protecting, restoring and connecting wild places throughout North America. Founded in 1991, Wildlands Network is working to establish four Wildways that span the North American continent and allow all species to roam and thrive.

Conrad Reining, Eastern Director of Wildlands Network, describes this bold initiative…

Wildlands Network was founded in 1991 by leading conservation scientists and advocates alarmed by the rising rate of extinctions across North America. Parks and preserves were–and still are–too isolated from one another to support functioning ecological systems, and would not be resilient in the face of large-scale changes wrought by climate disruption. Animals, especially wide-ranging species, need connections between parks and preserves to locate new territory, food, and mates.

Led by conservation visionaries including Michael Soulé and John Terbourgh, Wildlands Network calls for a trans-boundary continental connectivity vision and inspires the environmental movement to think boldly and move beyond “postage stamp” conservation.


Wildlands Network’s vision calls for four “Wildways”–extensive networks of connected and protected wildlife habitat and travel corridors–that encompass all of North America to ensure that wildlife will have the ability to travel across large landscapes in pursuit of mates, food, and stronger genetics. Wildlands Network is currently focused on two of them – the Eastern Wildway, from Florida to southeast Canada, and the Western Wildway (Spine of the Continent), from northern Mexico through the Rockies into Alaska.


In conjunction with our partners in both the Eastern and Western Wildways, we conduct scientific analyses based on ecological, political, social and other factors to determine the most ecologically important and most vulnerable landscapes. We then identify key connectivity projects necessary to close the gaps between protected areas. These include land acquisition and conservation easements, land management policy reforms, creation of new protected areas, and construction of wildlife bridges across highways. Landscape restoration is also a necessary component as we reconnect wild and pristine places, given that the “connectors” often entail lands of degraded condition.


The Eastern Wildway is a vision for wildlife habitat connectivity in the eastern U.S./Canada. Comprised of six ecoregions, the Eastern Wildway provides a framework within which local, state, federal and private land managers can collaborate to connect and restore habitat.

Wilderness explorer John Davis, link to LL Talks With John Davis using mostly human power, is currently undertaking Wildlands Network’s TrekEast campaign to bring awareness and actions to protect, connect and restore the Eastern Wildlway.  Davis is hiking, paddling, cycling and skiing through the wildway from the Everglades to Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula, slogging through swamps, hiking in search of rare prairies and longleaf pine forests, paddling pristine and important rivers, exploring rich coastal marshes, climbing ancient mountains, and navigating through valleys and northern landscapes.


The Western Wildway is a vision for wildlife habitat connectivity throughout the Intermountain West of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Comprised of five ecoregional conservation plans called “Wildlands Network Designs,” and other compatible conservation efforts, the Western Wildway provides a framework within which local, state, federal and private land managers can collaborate to connect and restore habitat.

To ensure that conservation actions occur to implement these conservation plans, the Western Wildway Network Initiative was formed as a collaborative effort to protect, restore and reconnect the entire spine of the Rocky Mountains. Wildlands Network and a Steering Committee, comprised of local and regional groups representing the different ecological regions of the Wildway, lead the Initiative. Conservation organizations, private landowners, land trusts, climate scientists, wildlife managers and other interests throughout the Wildway work with the steering committee to undertake actions to secure habitat protection and restoration called for in the WNDs.

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