The Rocky Mountains embody the wild heart of North America. The region is home to legendary landscapes like Yellowstone, Banff, Bear’s Ears, and the Gila; iconic animals like bison, wolverine, river otter, and the jaguar; and a diversity of communities that are models for protecting nature.
The WCS Rocky Mountain Program’s strategic vision is to Rewild the Rockies. We work in three priority landscapes—Northern Rockies, Southern Rockies, Southwest Borderlands—advancing science, policy, strategic partnerships, and civic engagement and movement building.
Where We Work
The Rocky Mountains represent some of the most globally significant, intact temperate ecosystems, as well as some of the most threatened—only 20% of the original grasslands remain in North America.
The WCS Rocky Mountain Program links the Sierra Madres in Mexico to the Canadian Rockies, and connects the Great Basin to the Great Plains. It holds the headwaters of half of the largest river systems in North America, including the Columbia, Missouri, Colorado, and Rio Grande. Herds of bison, pronghorn, and mule deer, along with populations of wolverine, wolves, and grizzly bear rely on these vital landscapes, including some of nature's most famous strongholds: Yellowstone (the world’s first national park), Banff (Canada’s first national park), Bear’s Ears (the first Indigenous-led National Monument designation), and the Gila (the world’s first wilderness area).
The WCS Rocky Mountain Program focuses on three of the most important biocultural landscapes: the transboundary Crown of the Continent and regions of critical connectivity in the High Divide (Northern Rockies), the U.S. Southern Rockies, and the U.S.-Mexico transboundary Southwest Borderlands.
Drivers of Change
To protect and restore the ecological integrity, our strategy targets the primary forces of fragmentation and de-wilding in the Rockies, including: (i) increasing industrial development, particularly energy and mineral extraction, fragmenting habitat and connectivity; (ii) economic pressures to convert private lands and the lack of financing mechanisms to incentivize private land stewardship; (iii) intensifying impacts of climate change; (iv) decreasing water quantity and quality due to climate change, unchecked development, and industrial-scale agriculture; (v) the lack of a large, durable base of conservation power, compounded by the fact that four of five North Americans live in urban areas and are increasingly disconnected from wild nature; and (vi) a dominant conservation paradigm that doesn’t embody the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
To achieve our strategic vision to Rewild the Rockies, we restore and reconnect species, landscapes, and watersheds at scales that are ecologically meaningful and resilient in the face of a changing climate. Rewilding and connectivity are not only about protecting wild nature, but also inspiring humanity to rewild itself and reconnect to the wild.
We seek to catalyze ecological, socio-political, and cultural connectivity across the complex matrix of public, private, and Indigenous lands common across North America. We advance the Program’s vision by braiding science, policy, strategic partnerships, and civic engagement and movement building into systemic solutions to the significant conservation challenges the region faces.
WCS was founded in 1895 in no small part to prevent the extinction of bison in North America and, in the ensuing century, it has continued to have a strong presence in the region. We draw from and build on this foundation to secure the long-term needs of wildlife, wildlands, and communities through strategic partnerships with a broad range of interests, influencers, and decision-makers. Together we are working to:
Co-create a new conservation paradigm—one that recognizes the systemic nature of the conservation challenge, embodies the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, and braids Indigenous science, cultural knowledge and worldviews with Western ones.
Make the scientific case for rewilding species, landscapes, and watersheds with cultural and local knowledge as well as Indigenous and western science.
Deepen strategic outreach and partnerships with Indigenous Nations, federal and state agencies, and rural communities to co-create and advance shared conservation goals.
Create a civic engagement campaign focused on public mobilization and the emergence of a Rewild the Rockies movement.
For the first time in history, WCS co-hosted the American Bison Society (ABS) Conference in 2019 on Native lands with our Indigenous partner, the Pueblo of Pojoaque. The Conference brought together more than 200 bison visionaries and experts from across the continent, including Tribes, First Nations, scientists, agencies, conservationists, ranchers, artists, and philanthropists to co-create a biocultural roadmap for rewilding buffalo across North America.
"The buffalo are coming back at a time when the Native Americans and this country need them most," says Janet Carrus, a WCS Rockies Program partner and advocate for Indigenous-led conservation. "A groundswell is taking place."
First signed in 2014, the historic Buffalo Treaty has now been signed by 30 Tribes and First Nations in the U.S. and Canada. This international agreement, envisioned and led by members of the Blackfoot Confederacy and supported by WCS, expresses a shared commitment to collaboration, cultural preservation, land conservation, youth education, economic development, and restoration of bison.