The Eastern Wildway Essential 16

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An Essential Sixteen for an Eastern Wildway
Where Ecological Urgency and Recreational Opportunity Meet in the East
 
All along TrekEast, wilderness explorer John Davis and partner Wildlands Network found many places richly deserving and urgently needing protection, and heroic conservationists working to save them. Often, these efforts were in alliance with hikers, birdwatchers, hunters, foresters, farmers, ranchers, and other outdoor recreationists.   Completing a huge list of eastern habitats in need of safekeeping is an important task for the conservation and recreation communities.   In the meantime, Davis and his Wildlands Network colleagues have identified some places that stood out as particularly compelling. 
 
In at least 16 key locations throughout a future continental-scale Eastern wildlife corridor, or Eastern Wildway, opportunity and urgency are converging to call for immediate action. We offer this list as a small sampling of great choices for restoration and conservation – places where with modest steps, we can reclaim big parts of America’s great natural heritage. Some of these are relatively small habitat linkages; but all are potentially parts of large wildlands complexes; all are crucial parts of a future continental conservation corridor.
 
Active ecological restoration (jobs!) may be needed to achieve many of these connections. For many of the areas discussed, specific park and wilderness and corridor proposals have been drafted, and we urge readers to go to websites of regional conservation groups to see how to support these proposals. We invite others to add to this list and help complete projects thereon. Also, and perhaps most importantly, individual commitment and understanding will provide habitat protections.
 
After each description we provide a sample of the groups working in that area. It is by no means exhaustive, and does not imply that a group endorses Wildlands Network or an eastern conservation corridor. Some groups have expressed a strong interest in creating an advisory group to explore new opportunities for conservation and restoration built around the idea of an Eastern Wildway.
 
1)          Caloosahatchee Crossing, Florida – The last remaining stronghold of the panther (puma, cougar, mountain lion …) in the East is in South Florida. Dredging of the Caloosahatchee River and development along its banks, together with high road density, is blocking panthers from recolonizing habitat north of the Everglades. A safe wildlife crossing of the Caloosahatchee is urgently needed, along with creation of a large Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and provision of wildlife crossings on major roads, including Interstate 4, which bisects the state from Tampa to Daytona and poses another major obstacle to south-north movement of wildlife.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·      Sierra Club 
 

2)     Conecuh to Eglin Longleaf Complex, Florida and Alabama – Americans have cut down all but small remnants of the 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest and savanna that once clothed the Southeast. The best opportunity for restoration of a large area of longleaf pine in a wildlands complex is in the Florida Panhandle and southern Alabama, including Blackwater River State Forest, Eglin Air Force Base, and Conecuh National Forest. Here will be a prime area for panther, red wolf, gopher tortoise, and indigo snake recovery. Thinking bigger, connecting Eglin to the expansive wildlands of Apalachicola National Forest would reestablish an even larger swath of the once-great longleaf forest, as would sweeping north through Alabama’s botanically rich Red Hills.

 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·      America’s Longleaf 
·      Longleaf Alliance 
 
3)  Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers, Georgia – Waterways are the arteries of the land; and particularly in the Southeast Coastal Plain, rivers can be the early reconnections between ocean and mountains. Widely buffered streams not only protect fish and other aquatic wildlife, but also provide travel corridors for wide-ranging mammal species, like otters, bears, panthers, wolves, and elk. Many of the big rivers and deltas in the Southeast Coastal Plain – such as the Suwannee in Florida, Cahaba in Alabama, and Edisto in South Carolina -- remain largely unspoiled, and should be restored where damaged, for biodiversity, water quality, and buffering of human communities from storms. Especially high priority should be given to the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers, buffering of which will help maintain ties between the great swamps of northern Florida and southern Georgia (including the famed Okefenokee) and coastal wildlands up the South Atlantic Seaboard, such as Ft. Stewart in Georgia.
 
Some of Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Alabama Rivers Alliance 
·       Cahaba River Association 
·       Orianne Society 
 
4)     ACE Basin to Francis Marion National Forest, South Carolina – The Low Country region of South Carolina contains two stunning jewels in the crown of coastal plain conservation, the ACE Basin and Francis Marion National Forest. Formed by the confluence of three rivers – the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto -- the ACE Basin now contains a tremendous amount of protected wetlands, and also quite a few stately old plantations whose upland habitats have been permanently set aside from development. Further north, Francis Marion National Forest was one of the last strongholds of the red-cockaded woodpecker for many years, concentrating 250,000 acres of quality longleaf pine and wetland habitats that are rich in all kinds of wildlife. Connecting these two key core areas will be essential to the well-being of black bear, diamondback rattlesnakes, and other wide-ranging species. However, suitable corridors will have to be restored and protected around the rapidly expanding city of Charleston to turn this dream linkage into reality.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       The Congaree Land Trust 
 
5)     Green Swamp and Cape Fear Arch, North and South Carolina – Home to almost the entire global population of venus fly-traps, this rich corner of the Carolinas is also a critical linkage connecting coastal habitats in South Carolina (Winyah Bay and the Waccammaw National Wildlife Refuge) to the wilds of Holly Shelter Gamelands, Croatan National Forest, and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to the north. The area retains diverse stands of longleaf savannah, including the famed Green Swamp preserve, and much potential exists for restoration of longleaf habitat in the surrounding areas. Further protection of riparian habitats along the Waccammaw and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers is needed to secure this linkage against incursions of suburban growth creeping inland from Wilmington and other coastal cities. Such protections would help maintain the region’s impressive black bear population and enable eventual dispersal of red wolves.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       NC Coastal Land Trust 
 
6)     Linville Gorge to Roan Mountain, North Carolina and Tennessee – There are two great "branches" of protected forest in the North Carolina-Tennessee portion of the Southern Appalachians. One branch, the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment, is home to the Blue Ridge Parkway, portions of Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, Mount Mitchell (the highest point in the eastern US), Grandfather Mountain, and the wild and scenic Linville Gorge. The other branch is anchored by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and extends both southwest and northeast out of the Smokies along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains. To the north this branch follows the Appalachian Trail up through the scenic balds of Roan Mountain and beyond. One of the gaps between these two major forest corridors is only a dozen miles wide, between Roan Mountain and Linville Gorge.  Restoring and protecting this connection would give wide-ranging species room to roam across a vast network of craggy ridgetops and deep forest coves. The Appalachian Trail corridor between the Great Smokies and Roan Mountain is also rather narrow in parts, and it crosses two major interstates. Buffering the trail as it passes through the Bald Mountains, and creating more effective wildlife underpasses along I-40 and I-26 would enhance the population viability of a number of mountain species, in addition to enhancing a recreation corridor used by thousands of people each year.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Dogwood Alliance 
·       Open Space Institute 
·       Wild South 
·       The Nature Conservancy, NC, TN, & VA Chapters 
·       The Wilderness Society 
 
7)     Pine Mountain, southeast Kentucky – The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust made a miraculous save of Blanton Forest – Cumberland Plateau’s largest remnant of old-growth, mixed mesophytic forest – and then began adding to that protected part of Pine Mountain. Now, elk roam there again, and bears can travel the long mountain in relative safety. Still, not enough has been conserved yet, though, for recovery of panther or red wolf; and with roads, machines, and other vectors nearby, exotic pests like hemlock wooly adelgid threaten the irreplaceable old-growth forest.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
 
8)     Arc of Appalachia, southern Ohio – Highlands Nature Sanctuary in the Appalachian foothills (an area also known as the Edge of Appalachia) is one of America’s great wildlands philanthropy stories. Thousands of forest acres – vibrant with wildflowers, songbirds, and bats -- have been secured, and an Appalachian Forest School is being created, to teach young and old about the glories of the once and future Eastern Deciduous Forest. Stronger links east to the Appalachian Mountains are now needed.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Arc of Appalachia 
 
9)     West Virginia Highlands – Some of the East’s most magnificent scenery and remote backcountry is in the Monongahela National Forest, Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and other public lands of West Virginia. Keeping intact the West Virginia Highlands is crucial to maintaining connections through the Central Appalachians. Here, with modest changes in management, a half-million-acre High Allegheny National Park or wildlands complex could be created. Beneficiaries would include wildlife watchers, sightseers, hikers and skiers, local towns, sub-alpine plant communities, diverse amphibian assemblages, and eventually missing predators like the cougar. Carnivore recovery, along with wilderness expansion, is urgently needed here, for the forests are being badly over-browsed by unnaturally high concentrations of deer.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
 
10)   Pine Creek watershed, Ridge and Valley Province, Pennsylvania – An Eastern Wildway, or National Conservation Corridor, must run north through Pennsylvania; yet this state, which once grew some of the East’s most magnificent forests, is under increased assault from coal-mining, hydro-fracking, and other unsustainable energy exploitation. Natural corridors must be protected along the Ridge and Valley Province for animals to be able to shift northward with warming climate. The mountains along and near Pine Creek should be protected for wildlife movement, stream health, and to ensure the beloved bike path along Pine Creek does not look out on industrial scars.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Clearwater Conservancy 
·       Earthworks 
·       350.org (works globally for energy conservation and stable climate)
 
11)    Shawangunk to Catskills Greenway, southern New York – The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership is working to protect and restore biological connections between the Shawangunks (part of Ridge & Valley Province) and the Catskills (sub-range of Appalachians) to the north. The “Gunks” are famous for rock-climbing as well as biodiversity and scenery; and New York’s Catskill Park is the state’s second greatest wildlands complex (after Adirondack Park, in northern-most NY). Safe wildlife crossings of roads will be crucial to restoring this connection, as well as conservation easements on private lands.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Catskill Mountainkeeper 
·       Mohonk Preserve 
·       Open Space Institute 
 
12)   Southern Lake Champlain Valley and Vermont Valley, New York and Vermont – The East’s best protected landscape, arguably, is New York’s Adirondack Park, where nearly half the 6-million acre park is Forest Preserve protected by the Forever Wild clause of the State Constitution. Great as it is, Adirondack Park cannot by itself conserve the full range of biodiversity in this region. Maintaining and enhancing forested connections throughout the Park (including safe wildlife passages across I-87) but also outward to other wildlands is critical, and most urgent of these links beyond the Park is through the partly pastoral landscape of the Southern Lake Champlain Valley to Vermont’s Green Mountains. Also important is the nearby Vermont Valley, a narrow lowland between the Taconic and Green Mountains that is vulnerable to development. Land conservation, sound stewardship by landowners, and thoughtful management of development are needed to maintain safe travel routes for bears, fishers, bobcats, and other wide-ranging species.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Adirondack Council 
·       Keeping Track 
·       Open Space Institute 
·       Vermont Land Trust 
·       Wildlands and Woodlands 
 
13)   Northern Green Mountains/Suttons link, northern Vermont and southern Quebec – The Northern Green Mountains in northern Vermont and southern Quebec (where they are called the Sutton Mountains) are still generally a wildlife-friendly mix of large forests and small farms. At present, a bear or moose could travel in relative safety from Vermont’s Chittenden Uplands northward along the Greens and through Quebec’s Ruiter Valley to Mount Orford and beyond, but development and roads put those connections at risk.   Conservation partners in northern Vermont are working under the banner of the Staying Connected Initiative to sustain this landscape character for wildlife and people, using both time-tested tools like land conservation acquisitions and easements and new approaches to making key road crossings more wildlife friendly. Several groups in Quebec also are hard at work conserving land and collaborating with local municipalities to manage development. This is a fine example of cross-border cooperation among Americans and Canadians to maintain their shared natural legacy.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Cold Hollow to Canada 
·       Keeping Track 
·       Open Space Institute 
·       Ruiter Valley Land Trust 
·       Trust for Public Land 
·       Vermont Land Trust 
·       Wildlands and Woodlands 
 
14)   Northeast Kingdom to Moosehead: Northeastern Vermont, Northern New Hampshire and Western and Northern Maine – Bear, Canada lynx, fisher, marten, and other animals need to be able to move easily among Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, the rugged White Mountains and Connecticut Lakes of New Hampshire, and the Mahoosucs and Boundary Mountains of western Maine. At present, one critical impediment is Route 2 (major east-west highway); and an opportune place to put in a wildlife crossing is at the Bowman Divide, on the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest just west of Randolph, NH. Conservation acquisitions along the nearby Israel River will also help ensure that animals can find ample cover, food, and mates in and around some of the Northeast’s highest mountains.  Moosehead Lake, at the northern end of this linkage, falls within one of the most sparsely settled areas – Maine’s North Woods -- in eastern North America.  Vast stretches of the North Woods, which encompass Mt. Katahdin and the headwaters of the Allagash, Penobscot and other legendary rivers, have few or no human inhabitants and are crossed by very few paved roads.  Most of this area has a long history as managed forest, and remains a landscape where conservation can still take place on a large scale.  Indeed, nearly 2.25 million acres have already been conserved as reserves, state-managed parcels, and working-forest easements. Building on this system can provide connectivity for wide-ranging animals and is essential to the ecological integrity of northeastern North America. A potential major threat to this area is a proposed 220-mile highway extending from the Maine communities of Calais in the east to Coburn Gore at the border with Quebec.  Visit the websites of the organizations listed below to learn more about the many efforts – from establishment of some of the largest conservation easements in North America to proposals for a new national park -- to conserve the forests of Maine.
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Appalachian Mountain Club 
·       Forest Society of Maine 
·       New Hampshire Audubon 
·       Open Space Institute 
·       RESTORE: The North Woods 
·       Trust for Public Land 
·       Wildlands and Woodlands 
 
15)   Three Borders Area of Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick  – The great mass of Maine’s North Woods connects to the interior of Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula and northern New Brunswick through a region of beautiful forests and rivers, including the St. Francis, a river as wild and scenic as Maine’s Allagash but less well-known, and the Restigouche, famed for its Atlantic salmon runs.  The region is bisected by the St. John River, where rich valley soils support farmland that straddles the international boundary. The International Appalachian Trail, which runs from Mt. Katahdin to the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, introduces hikers to seldom visited parts of the Northern Appalachians, and can serve (like its southern sibling, the Appalachian Trail) as the backbone for a system of reserves and private conservation land.   The Three Borders Area itself, where New Brunswick, Quebec, and Maine meet, would be an ideal international peace park, centered around the St. Francis River. Although this area remains largely undeveloped, there are threats to connectivity, such as the widening in some places of the TransCanada highway from two lanes to four. 
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Appalachian Mountain Club 
·       Forest Society of Maine 
·       Open Space Institute 
·       RESTORE: The North Woods 
·       Two Countries, One Forest 
 
16)   Gaspesie Park to Forillon Park, Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec – The Chic Choc Mountains in the heart of the Gaspe Peninsula are partly protected in Gaspesie National Park; and the area where the Appalachian Mountains dive into the sea is partly protected as Forillon Park. Reconnecting these spectacular parks could arrest the decline of the last remaining herd of caribou in the East south of the St. Lawrence River and help ensure long-term well being of lynx, marten, Atlantic salmon, eagles and waterfowl. 
 
Some of the Conservation Groups Active in this Area:
·       Parks Canada 
·       Two Countries, One Forest 
 
In addition to these 16 exciting prospects, TrekEast highlights the need to restore populations of panthers, wolves, elk, trout, salmon and other missing or diminished species throughout wilder parts of the Southeast Coastal Plain and Appalachian Mountains. Eastern forests are suffering serious over-browsing from deer, which have lost their native predators. At the same time, deer overpopulation threatens human health through spread of Lyme disease and increased car/deer collisions.  By conserving the above 16 areas and other wildlife corridors, managing our forests and other private lands with sound conservation strategies, retrofitting major roads with safe wildlife crossings, and exploring the feasibility of reintroductions of extirpated species (with support from local people), especially the cougar and wolf, brook trout and Atlantic salmon, North Americans might restore balance to our forests and waterways.
 
A final and difficult lesson from TrekEast, though, is that all the excellent grassroots conservation efforts under way are not enough. They are all important and worthy of increased support, but if we North Americans are to secure our great natural heritage for posterity, we must undertake national and international efforts to restore and maintain habitat connections on a continental scale. National and International Conservation and Recreation Corridor initiatives are needed, to tie together grassroots conservation efforts, give wide-ranging species ample room to roam, afford plants and animals space to shift ranges with climate change, store carbon and provide other ecosystem services, and give people of all ages safe places to hike, watch wildlife, hunt, or simply enjoy peace and quiet.   In 2013, Wildlands Network will launch TrekWest to strengthen the case for national conservation corridors.

 

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