50 Years Wild: Connecting Wild Places

October, 2014


In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, EPIC and our conservation partners sent 50,000 messages (through the Connecting Wild Places Petition) to Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and to all California National Forest and BLM Supervisors and elected delegates asking them to protect all remaining old growth, to establish a well-connected network of wildlife corridors and to reform antiquated extraction policies.

Wild places are part of our nation’s heritage. California’s 53 Wilderness Areas (mostly high elevation), 25 national and 270 state parks and beaches offer islands of refuge for native plants and wildlife. Roadless Areas, rivers and ridges contain vital lower elevation carbon dense forests and provide connectivity between these core areas. Habitat linkages serve as passageways that allow wildlife to move freely, search for food, find a mate and strengthen genetic diversity.

A majority of wildlife corridors, managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) within California’s’ 18 national forests, remain unacknowledged, unprotected and open to multiple threats. Northern California forests are some of the most carbon dense forests on the planet, with the largest, oldest trees storing the greatest amounts of carbon and playing a major role in regulating the Earth’s climate. These networks of interconnected forests create crucial climate refugia for imperiled species.

The Federal Forest Carbon Coalition—a new first-of-a-kind consortium of over 60 national, regional and local organizations, including EPIC, focused on forests, biodiversity, fisheries, rivers, faith and spirituality, Native American treaty rights, youth, rural communities and climate disruption—recently issued a suite of science-based recommendations to the Obama Administration. Entitled Modernizing Federal Forest Management To Mitigate and Prepare For Climate Disruption, the recommendations for our public lands include permanently protecting all high-biomass forested areas (older forests; live, dead and fallen) from logging, recognizing carbon as a significant public resource, increasing carbon storage, restoring mature forests, promoting more natural fire regimes and a moratorium on fracking.

More than 75 scientists recently requested that the President direct his Secretary of Agriculture and Chief of the USFS to craft a National Old Growth Conservation Policy that fully protects the remaining old-growth forests on all national forests. The signatories include PhD professors from throughout the country and Canada, retired state and federal resource agency biologists and two former USFS Chiefs.

National forests providing habitat linkages between wilderness areas are increasingly important refuges for many rare native plants and animals. Well over half of California’s fish, amphibians and mammals and nearly half of all birds and reptiles are “at-risk.” Habitat loss is the main reason for the current global mass extinction rate. Conserving and connecting habitat is the number one goal of the National Fish, Wildlife and Plant Climate Adaption Strategy. Connecting Wild Places is in concert with that goal.

On a positive note for wildlife, the gray wolf is returning to California. Wolves need room to roam and packs are known to travel up to 30 miles a day. OR-7 traveled over 4,000 miles in the last four years between Oregon and California. Residing just over the border with his mate and three pups, it is entirely possible that the new pack will make California part of their home range.

California and its globally significant forests offer an amazing opportunity to establish an interconnected intact landscape, especially in the Pacific Northwest. Connecting Wild Places is crucial for the survival of wildlife and is integral to climate adaption. Climate change demands political change. Our leaders in office and in forest, fish and wildlife management need to enact policy and implement adaption strategies to conserve our quality of life, wildlife and wild places.