Climate change, development, ranching, and oil and gas exploration tend to get a lot of ink when it comes to threats to wildlife in the Western United States. But wildlife corridors are another vital factor, and one that relates very closely to all the aforementioned variables because they allow wildlife to adapt to changes in their environment while maintaining vital migration patterns. The movement of keystone species, such as cougars, wolves, and bears, through these corridors—or "wildways"—is vital to balancing ecosystems, as well. In fact, the study of these corridors is a fundamental aspect of conservation biology, as Mary Ellen Hannibal describes in her book The Spine of the Continent.
Unfortunately, highways tend to fragment these corridors, as roadkill makes perfectly obvious, and other demands are continually encroaching on these passageways. Conservation biologists are continually working to protect wildways and keep them open. On January 25, wilderness advocate, writer, and adventurer John Davis will set out from Sonora, Mexico, on a 10-month journey along this spine, which is linked through a number of mountain ranges, including the Rockies, from Mexico into Canada.
The goal for this project, dubbed TrekWest, is to drum up attention and improved protections for the waterways and mountain passes along the corridor. Along the way Davis will conduct a sort of moving symposium, meeting with scientists and researchers who are studying the pressures being put on wildlife corridors through development and other demands. He plans to broadcast these interactions via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and the trip is being made possible through the Wildlands Network, which Davis co-founded, and a range of other conservation groups, listed on the route map.
Long slogs and extreme weather are not foreign concepts to Davis. For his TrekEast adventure in 2011, he hiked, biked, and paddled 7,600 backcountry miles from the Florida Keys to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula.
He says he is motivated to go on these treks both as a way of putting wildways into the national discussion but also for his own fulfillment. "I do this first and foremost because I believe in the value of nature, but also for selfish reasons," he says. "I like to recreate in wild places and I personally lose each time an acre of wildlands are lost."
"The conservation community alone isn't enough [to protect these corridors], we need to get a national consensus on this. The outdoor recreation community is absolutely vital to this," he adds. "I hope to strengthen the ties between conservation biologists and outdoor recreationalists, who should be active in trying to protect these areas. I hope that's one thing my trek will draw attention to."