Large mammals have roamed the Earth for millions of years. From the lions and elephants of the Serengeti, to the bison and grizzly bears of North America, these animals are essential to their surrounding ecosystems. Many are indicator species that signal the health of their ecosystem simply through their presence. These large organisms often control other populations through predator prey relationships and can even create habitat for smaller organisms through grazing and stampedes. But with a large animal comes a large set of requirements to live a healthy lifestyle. These animals require lots of land to roam in order to find food, mate, and continue their traditional migrations. Human development has encroached on the land these large organisms need to survive. Populations are becoming fragmented and species are losing their genetic diversity, forcing some near the brink of extinction. The National Parks created years ago are becoming isolated natural islands across the landscape that lack the amount of room required by many species.
The film Wild Ways, produced by NOVA, explores the conservation progress in the western United States and Canada to connect Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon corridor. Overpasses, tunnels, and protected land areas are being built to establish more natural routes between the currently isolated habitats of these organisms.
The connection of these fragmented environments would produce a safe haven for animals to live, feed, and breed without the threat of getting shot or becoming road-kill on a four-lane highway. This linkage of national parks within the Rocky Mountains would help meet the needs of other species as well and attempt to recreate the large ecosystem that was in place before European colonization of the west.
Wild Virginia is supporting similar programs like these discussed in Wild Ways here in the east by collaborating with the Wildlands Network. The Wildlands Network is working with conservationists and non-profits to develop the Eastern Wildway© a corridor of connectivity that would stretch from Quebec to Florida.
Our own George Washington and Jefferson National Forests have the potential to encompass a large link in this chain for Virginia. Wild ways have the opportunity to connect valuable areas and protect not only the large mammals that exist in these ecosystems but also educate humans on how we can achieve a healthier balance with nature.