In today’s fragmented and degraded world, the remaining stretches of intact ‘wildlands’ are crucial to the persistence of biodiversity over the next few hundred years of very rapid environmental change. Especially in times of climate change, wild lands that are intact and unfragmented by roads, railways, and energy infrastructure are crucial for species survival.

Here we explain how wildlands are defined, what inventoried and uninventoried roadless areas are, why they exist and why they’re crucial to the future of our wildlife and ecosystem health.

Current work on wildlands

Pacific Biodiversity Institute and our partners apply our extensive field knowledge and expertise in spatial analysis to map the extent and characteristics of wildlands in the western hemisphere. Currently, we are emphasizing exciting conservation opportunities in South America, where Argentina and Chile are expanding their national protected area networks.

Our South American Wildlands and Biodiversity Initiative, led by Lucila Castro of our Córdoba, Argentina office, is partnering with Argentina’s national parks administration and fellow nonprofit organizations to map, inventory, and provide research and monitoring services in support of three new national parks in that country.

In North America, our coalition-based Early Warning System for Biodiversity and Ecosystems is building a powerful basis for tracking the health of wildlands, as well as human-altered habitats in the Cascadia Region, through science and citizen science.

PBI's history with wildlands

We have a long and deep history in the definition, mapping, inventorying and protection of wildlands. Starting in 1993, PBI’s team mapped roadless areas and other wildlands that are already protected as Wilderness or Park, as part of a biodiversity assessment and establishment of conservation priorities for the North Cascade Ecosystem in Washington State and British Columbia.

This work led to the design of an integrated reserve network that represents all elements of regional biodiversity, in which wildland complexes formed the core of the reserve network. We took a novel approach of mapping roadless areas and other wildlands on all kinds of land ownership - public, private and tribal. Political decisions affect the way different kinds of land are managed, and how biodiversity fares in these land types. So it’s crucial to map roadless areas and wildlands in the entire landscape.

Soon after the North Cascades project, we mapped all remaining unprotected and protected wildlands in Washington State (see our report, Unprotected Wildlands of Washington State). We have also mapped unprotected and protected wildlands in Oregon, in partnership with the Oregon Natural Resources Council. We’ve worked with the Sierra Club to map remaining wildlands across the eight western states explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 19th century (see a map of wildlands in all 8 northwestern states).

We've also worked with the Pew Wilderness Center to map the remaining wildlands on four federal ownerships (National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, National Park and National Wildlife Refuge) across the USA and its territories. This led to a remarkable series of maps covering the entire nation and more detailed maps for each state.