In the words of board president Jim Lockhart, Wild Connections’ work is “a 25-year project, and ongoing.” This long-standing nonprofit organization, which Lockhart joined just a year after its inception, is at its core a conservation effort, though one that’s entirely unique in its part of the state.
“Wild Connections is an organization that protects wild areas,” Lockhart says. “We do that by focusing not on the individual areas so much as the connecting links between areas, so wildlife can move back and forth between those areas. In other words, we protect corridors as well as the core areas, where there’s relatively little development, and wildlife is basically free to move.”
The organization covers a huge swath of land in Colorado: The Arkansas and South Platte watersheds — basically the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and surrounding areas.
Driven almost entirely by volunteers (the sole paid staff member being its conservation director), Wild Connections works with government agencies like the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Much of their work lately has been focused on restoring out-of-use roadways in order to discourage folks from driving motor vehicles where they don’t belong. While the Forest Service provided the heavy equipment for Wild Connections’ last such venture, the rest of the work was done entirely by volunteers.
These relationships with the Forest Service and BLM have helped solidify Wild Connections’ reputation, which has allowed the organization to recommend plans and provide input on plans to maintain wild areas. In 2006, they released the Wild Connections Conservation Plan, a 300-page document that proposed ideas for “how the National Forest could be managed to maintain connectivity, preserve the core areas, the wilderness areas, and also the routes in between them,”
To create that report, Wild Connections sent 100 volunteers to roadless areas over several years to make maps and collect data on wildlife migration — a massive undertaking.
But that isn’t all Wild Connections does. Another goal of the organization is to expose people to the beautiful areas they are working to protect. They organize outings to places like Ecology Park near Cañon City to educate people on the beauty and power of these natural lands and bolster commitment to maintaining them.
Lockhart says that the biggest change Wild Connections has seen in its quarter-century of existence is the rapid progression of climate change, and how that affects the work they do and the wild areas they value.
“This is a particularly critical time because of the political changes that have happened just in the last few weeks,” Lockhart says. “There will be a lot of work to do to undo some bad decisions that have been made in the past, to continue to protect areas. ... [There’s] a lot of demand out there for recreation, for mineral extraction, for various uses of public lands — and they are not getting any larger.”