Coexisting with and Conserving America’s Predators
In The Carnivore Way, Cristina Eisenberg argues compellingly for the necessity of top predators in large, undisturbed landscapes, and how a continental-long corridor—a “carnivore way”—provides the room they need to roam and connected landscapes that allow them to disperse.
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Twelve thousand years ago,
two ice sheets covered much of North America. The Laurentian Ice Sheet ranged over most of Canada, and the Cordilleran Ice Sheet blanketed the Pacific Coast. As these ice sheets receded, a path opened between them. This corridor gradually widened, creating a passage for plants and animals. In time, lush forests arose, and large mammals began to inhabit and move through the steep slopes and fertile valleys of the Rocky Mountains. Today, animals continue to use this ancient migration and dispersal pathway. It’s part of their ancestral memory; it’s in their genes. Indeed, I like to think of it as a “carnivore way,” because of the carnivores who’ve worn deep trails in this pathway since time immemorial.
The Carnivore Way begins in the Sierra Madre Occidental, 400 miles south of the US-Mexico border and ends in Alaska, at the Arctic Ocean. It contains the current range of the six large carnivore species in the West profiled in my book: wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines, lynx, jaguars, and cougars. I chose these species, because they are the most imperiled large carnivores in this region.
According to Wildlands Network, corridors function like lifelines, enabling animals to flow from one core area to another. Barriers to this basic need to move, such as human development, can provide formidable threats to long-term survival of many species. For the large carnivores, it’s not just about losing the freedom to move, it’s about losing a natural process. They and other species use dispersal as a key survival mechanism, to maintain genetic diversity. Species also use dispersal to adapt to climate change. Ten thousand years ago, when North America consisted of vast, unbroken tracts of land, these dispersals were probably fairly straightforward. But today, given our fragmented continent, such movements literally amount to acts of faith. Faith that by acting on instinct, these animals will find what they need to persist as individuals, and beyond that, as species: a safe home, suitable habitat, and a mate.
Curtis Edson created the powerful Carnivore Way maps for my book, one for each species, and final map that shows how large carnivore presence converges along the Rocky Mountains. You can see all of Curtis’s maps and read more about these species in my book.