John Davis, Elizabethtown, New York; trekker and scout at TrekWest | Photo by Corey Hendrickson
"For years, conservationists have been saying it's not enough to protect small islands of habitats. We need to protect big cores of wildland and link them through corridors—areas where native animals can move freely. I'm proposing one of these corridors through the spine of the Rockies. It would be called the Western Wildway.
"I traveled the route by foot and by bike, figuring out if the corridors on the map are truly passable for wildlife. Most nights, I fell asleep under the stars. Your head clears from the chatter of civilization.
"I always try to scout and explore the landscape through the eyes of the animals that traverse it, especially the top carnivores. I think as a cougar might think. Could I cross that valley and go up over that mountain? How is the prey density? What route will I choose?
"There are many obstacles you can't sort out using just a map. For example, there's an aqueduct running through central Arizona. On maps, it doesn't look like it would be a serious obstacle. Then I saw it. It's huge. A large mammal might be able to cross, but a lizard certainly couldn't. We need to put some vegetated bridges over it.
"Roads are another obstacle you can't gauge from a map. When I went from the Grand Canyon to Utah's Canyon Country, I had to cross Highway 89, which was causing a lot of deaths along a traditional wildlife route. Now they have seven wildlife crossings. Fencing funnels animals into tunnels beneath the highway. It's been very successful.
"It's important to realize that corridor connectors could be as small as a safe crossing under a major road for amphibians or elk, or as big and wide as a mountain range. If we can get people to walk through these wildlands and see that, they'd realize these places need to be protected." —interview by Lee Roscoe
Veteran Cougar The 5,000-mile TrekWest journey was John Davis's second corridor-connecting project. In 2011, he completed TrekEast, testing the proposed Eastern Wildway from Florida to Quebec, Canada.
On the Web Learn more about TrekWest, John Davis, and wilderness corridors at trekwest.org.