United States

Tracking the Pacific Fisher Video
In California, WCS works with the Hoopa tribe to preserve the redwoods for an elusive forest mammal.
©WCS
Teshekpuk, Alaska Video
Alaska's northern coastal plain is the home to millions of migratory bird species.
©WCS
The Adirondacks Video
Very little conjures up imagery of the wild so vividly as the call of the loon. Yet these enigmatic birds face serious threats even in their nesting grounds in the Adirondack Park.
©WCS
The Path of the Pronghorn Antelope Video
An icon of the American West faces new obstacles as it travels an ancient route through sagebrush plains.
©WCS
Musk Oxen Photo
Working in the western Alaskan Arctic, WCS scientists are investigating the decline of the musk ox, a social mammal that lives in very complex herd societies.
©Joel Berger
Telemetry Photo
©Sean Matthews
Yellowstone Landscape Photo
The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem holds the highest concentration of large mammals in the contiguous United States along with a complete assemblage of native carnivores.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The United States harbors a great diversity of landscapes, from polar ice to semi-tropical jungles, from wind-blown prairies to temperate rainforests, from alpine peaks to deserts and coral reefs. Its habitats include some of the most fertile on Earth, such as the Mississippi River bottomlands, as well as some of the most sterile—the western salt flats. Magnificent and diverse wildlife still flourish in many parts of this country, including bald eagle, moose, musk ox, caribou, elk, wolverine, bison, grizzly bear, mountain lion, polar bear, and wolf. Thousands of species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds also live here.

The United States has a rich history of conservation innovation. In 1872, the very concept of national parks was established in the U.S. with the creation of Yellowstone, the crown jewel of parks. This was followed in 1932 by the first International Peace Park, Glacier-Waterton National Park along the border with Canada. Though the country's wild places are protected through a vast system of public lands—ranging from national parks and wilderness areas to fish and wildlife refuges and state lands—some management activities on the public lands present major conservation challenges. Often, more productive private lands are an important part of long-term conservation success.

Fast Facts

  • Throughout the 20th century, WCS has helped create more than 30 U.S. parks and reserves, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Olympic and Wind Cave national parks. In 2008, our work in Wyoming led to the first federally-protected migration corridor, known as “the Path of the Pronghorn.”
  • The headwaters of the Missouri, the Columbia, and the Colorado Rivers all begin in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the only areas in the U.S. where the full set of large native carnivores still roam freely. WCS’s Yellowstone Rockies program is committed to ensuring the future of these carnivores.
  • The largest intact temperate forest in the world is in the Adirondack State Park. WCS is working to preserve the integrity of this forest despite growing threats of development and pollution.
  • Originally founded in 1905 by pioneering conservationists Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornaday, the American Bison Society helped save the bison from extinction. One hundred years later, the American Bison Society was re-launched by WCS to secure the species' ecological future.
  • At 23 million acres, Alaska's Teshekpuk Lake region is the largest single piece of public land in the U.S. WCS works to protect this key nesting site for migratory birds and other wildlife in the Arctic.

Challenges

National parks, refuges, and wilderness areas are often too small to protect biodiversity, given the immense challenges of today. The expanding human footprint is shrinking available habitat and limits prospects for wide-roaming species like grizzly bears, wolverines, and pronghorn. Valuable habitat outside protected areas is being rapidly degraded and destroyed, overtaken by second homes and tourism infrastructure, and a growing human population. Simultaneously, intensified mining and hydrocarbon development are invading previously untouched wild areas. Accordingly, many natural areas are becoming isolated by adjacent human development; land-use decisions are being made on a piecemeal basis; and policy affecting wildlife and wild places is not keeping pace with the magnitude of change.

Climate change exacerbates these challenges. As temperatures and climate variability increase, wildlife ranges are shifting. As a result, protected lands and protected species may cease to overlap, requiring an urgent need to identify and protect new areas that can act as refuges and wildlife corridors. There will be a need for new public policy that can dynamically shift how lands are categorized. And there will be hard work to do in engaging local communities as allies.

WCS Responds

Since its creation in 1895, the Wildlife Conservation Society has played a central role in protecting American wildlife and wild places. At the turn of the 20th century, WCS saved the American bison from extinction by successfully restocking reserves across the West. WCS supported the Murie expedition in Alaska in the 1950s, which led to the protection of the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Throughout this past century, WCS has supported pioneering field studies of key species such as bighorn sheep, black-footed ferrets, grizzly bears, mountain lions, and bald eagles, and helped create more than 30 U.S. parks and reserves.

WCS provides technical assistance and biological expertise to local groups and agencies that lack the resources to tackle conservation dilemmas. WCS supports comprehensive field studies to gather information on wildlife needs, and works with local communities, conservation groups, regulatory agencies, and industries to create public backing for conservation. Parallel with its efforts around the world, WCS works with Native Americans in the United States to increase their capacity to conserve and manage biodiversity on native lands.

WCS is committed to conserving vulnerable species such as wolverines, musk oxen, and bison and three large ecologically intact landscapes: Adirondack Park, the Yellowstone Rockies, and Arctic Alaska. We extend our reach beyond these landscapes by addressing five conservation challenges—climate change, wildlife corridors, natural resource extraction, wildlife health, and rural sprawl.

WCS Projects

The Restoration of the Bronx RiverJune 2, 2009

Once plagued by pollution and neglect, today the Bronx River is home to herring, egrets, and even a lone beaver. The return of native wildlife is proof of the waterway’s improving health, and a testimony to community restoration efforts by WCS and other local groups.

Corridor Conservation in the American West

Food, water, shelter, and the freedom to roam—these are the basic needs of wildlife. WCS-North America works to protect and interlink crucial wildlife habitats through field-based research, outreach, and policy.

Alaska’s Migratory Birds Cope with Climate Change

The Arctic coastal plain of Alaska serves as the spring nesting ground for millions of shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, and other types of birds. Climate change is interfering with their migration, nesting, and feeding patterns. WCS-North America conservationists study how the birds cope with the changing landscape, and identify key areas for conservation.

The Tallest Trees

WCS’s long history in northern California began with a walk through the redwoods in 1917 by Henry Fairfield Osborn, one of our founders. Almost a century later, WCS conservationist J. Michael Fay undertook his own hike through the woods to continue a legacy of forest conservation.

From the Newsroom

Slideshow: A Historic Journey for Bison, 100 Years LaterNovember 25, 2013

This Thanksgiving marked the 100-year-anniversary of one of the greatest milestones in the modern conservation movement: the transfer of 14 bison from the Bronx Zoo to Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.

Three Strikes You're out in the Old... Great... Plains!August 2, 2013

Steve Zack, WCS's Coordinator of Bird Conservation, explains the ways in which oil and gas fracking efforts may reshape the American prairie, and the consequences for grassland birds and bison.

Wildlife and SoundJune 17, 2013

This video by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks highlights a new tool developed by WCS Associate Conservation Scientist Sarah Reed. The tool is being used by scientists and land managers to model how noise travels through landscapes and affects species and ecosystems— a major factor in decisions such as where to locate new roads or recreational trails.

Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Bears RoamMay 30, 2013

Black bears are making a comeback in Nevada. WCS’s Jon Beckmann, conservation Scientist for the North America Program, urges that hunters and ranchers, the agricultural community, and environmentalists must determine together how we manage and live with these and other recovering populations of large carnivores.

Arctic Breeding Birds Need Our AttentionApril 24, 2013

Every year, millions of birds migrate to the coastal wetlands of Arctic Alaska to breed. Joe Liebezeit, WCS’s Arctic birds project leader, explains how rising temperatures are dramatically transforming this landscape and the lives of its seasonal residents.

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