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I like Thomas Lovejoy’s characterization of this book as the biography of a big conservation idea. The first third of the narrative is about the life and times of Michael Soulé, who is widely credited with founding conservation biology. Soulé and others sought to quantify what had been a soft discipline. Hammering out numbers and equations, they didn’t lose the emotional imperative at the heart of their science: conservare means to save in Latin. The Spine of the Continent initiative seeks to create “connectivity” between wild spaces along the Rockies from Alaska to Mexico, so that plants and animals can move as climate change prompts them, and so they can mingle with other populations of their own kind to maintain genetic resilience. Critters including pika, jaguar, wolves, beaver, and cows play their parts in the ecosystem and in the stories I tell while traipsing along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico.

“This is what scientific writing should be: fascinating and true.”

Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“This is the biography of a big conservation idea—of connected wild lands and nature-friendly landscapes the length of the Rockies—and of the scientific and conservation pioneers making it actually happen. Mary Ellen Hannibal gives us an engrossing and inspiring story. The Spine of the Continent comes to life in a page-turner of science, action and hope.”    


Thomas E. Lovejoy, Biodiversity Chair, the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment

“The bad news is that human impacts are tearing nature apart at the seams. The good news is that conservation biology has quantified why we have to heal these wounds in our life-support systems, and how to do it. Scientists, NGOs, and regular people are joining in a geographical, social, and political effort to sustain wilderness along the Rocky Mountains—the most significant stretch of wilderness left on the continent. If we are to get any kind of handle on the extinction crisis that is decimating biodiversity, it will be by protecting the habitats that sustain it, along the Spine of the Continent. This is an engaging and entertaining book, and it is an important one.”   

Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University and author of The Dominant Animal

The Spine of the Continent initiative may be the most daring and important conservation effort of our era, knitting the islands of natural beauty we’ve preserved (or ignored) during the last century into a connected, functioning ecosystem to sustain us all. Mary Ellen Hannibal delivers a compelling and personal narrative about science, nature, the extinction crisis—and the men and women determined to restore America’s most epic landscapes.”   

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes, author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash

“Mary Ellen Hannibal has brought a critical issue to light, and her insightful book deserves a wide audience. The Spine of the Continent should mark an epoch in conservation history—the moment, perhaps, let us hope, when large-scale thinking is at last brought to bear on our most precious landscapes.”   

Thomas McNamee, author of The Grizzly Bear and The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat

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