Habitat connectivity, the arrangement of protected habitats to aid in the likelihood of individual’s movement across the landscape, has been identified as one of the top strategies to preserve biodiversity. That’s why EPIC is fighting to connect areas of high habitat value—wilderness areas, roadless areas, and other pockets of mature forests—on both private and public lands. Our campaign, titled Connecting Wild Places, seeks to achieve permanent protections for habitat corridors. The upcoming revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan offer one of our best opportunities to address habitat connectivity at a landscape level.
The Northwest Forest Plan consists of a series of reserves, areas of habitat generally off-limits to logging, and “the matrix,” forests which are open to commercial logging. There are two major kinds of reserves: Late-Successional Reserves and Riparian Reserves. Late-Successional Reserves were designed with owls in mind. These protected areas were spread across the landscape, like islands of high-value habitat. The theory was, by spreading these pockets out, catastrophic events, such as a massive fire, would have less impact. And while owls prefer not to cross forest breaks, they can and will under the circumstances, so if one reserve was impacted, the owls could fly to another reserve. Riparian Reserves—protected forests alongside streams, rivers, lakes, and marshes—were designed in part to function as wildlife corridors, connecting larger blocks of habitat.
While the current system of reserves has helped to slow species decline, it isn’t perfect. For species like the Pacific fisher, the distances between Late-Successional Reserves are often too great and the Riparian Reserves too small to adequately function. In the anticipated revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan, EPIC will push to re-establish connectivity across the landscape. Specifically, EPIC seeks to establish and protect habitat linkages which utilize elevation gradients and north-facing slopes to act as “climate refugia”—areas that shelters people, plants and wildlife from the worst impacts of global warming. EPIC will also seek to expand the reserve system by protecting all native, unmanaged forests from logging, increasing the functionality of the existing reserve network. Re-establishing connectivity across our public lands won’t be easy, but we are up for the task.