Inevitably, plane travel makes me think of America as a much wilder place than I ordinarily judge it to be. We were flying into Charlottesville last week and I marveled at all the tree cover that seemed to dominate that landscape. From the air, Virginia appeared to be almost completely covered in trees. 

Once you’re on the ground, though, everything changes. It all looks human-related, with the manmade only sometimes interrupted by planned-out greenery and roads cutting through all the wooded areas.

In large part, that’s the world we’ve created, and, as Doug Tallamy has written and otherwise advocated, it’s the one we have to make work for biodiversity.

There’s a Wildway for that.

Where I live, the excellent Western New York Land Conservancy is finding a way to string together all the preserved areas we do have – and that’s a pleasantly surprising number – so that wildlife have a more-or-less protected corridor that stretches from the Pennsylvania border to Lake Ontario, spreading west to Lake Erie and east to the Finger Lakes and beyond, ultimately connecting with the Adirondacks. The “core” areas – the big forest and wetland preserves – would be connected by smaller strips of undeveloped waterways and strips of forest.

Animals are good at finding those pathways, though we have had some wandering backyard bears here and there. The project is called the Western New York Wildway.

These and the other images are all from the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge (taken in spring). It is an existing preserve, established in 1958.

As envisioned, it will connect with the Eastern Wildway, which stretches the length of North America. It’s all meant to fulfill E.O. Wilson’s concept of setting aside half of the world’s lands and seas so that  85% of global ecosystems and species can be protected from extinction. New York is committed to saving 30% of its natural lands by 2030, the only state other than California to make such a pledge. But if more regions do it, that green vision that looks so promising from the air would become more of a reality on solid ground.

Over the past decade, our Land Conservancy has been able to buy several local old-growth forests in order to protect them, as well as some small swampy areas. Most are publicly accessible and even serve as learning laboratories for K-12 and college classes. For people like me, this is another way of enjoying birds and wildflowers that I don’t have a hope of spotting anywhere near my neighborhood. 

“What does this have to do with gardening?” 

Maybe decades ago, that might have been a common reaction. I don’t think it is anymore.