are free to breed and exchange genes with connected populations. But some populations, such as those of the Iberian wolf and Italy’s Marsican brown bear, and also many lynx populations, are more fragmented. The problem is compounded by the fact that site selection for Natura 2000 – Europe’s protected-area network – is delegated at the national level, leading to poorly coordinated sites that are rarely assessed for connectivity. Portugal’s Iberian wolf typifies this conservation conundrum. An estimated 250–300 animals live in the Greater Côa Valley, but the Douro River currently separates wolves in the Malcata mountain range in the south from those in the larger Douro valley to the north. In order to improve genetic diversity, the wolves need a protected corridor to connect the two isolated sub-populations. Rewilding advocates are seizing a rare opportunity to expand this wolf population. In 2019, Rewilding Portugal, along with other Portuguese partners and Rewilding Europe, launched the five-year LIFE WolFlux project, a €2.2 million collaboration with local landowners that aims to convert abandoned rural land into a 120,000-hectare protected corridor for the wolves. ‘In the Greater Côa Valley, people are abandoning agricultural land, which is creating an opportunity for nature to thrive,’ says Sara Aliacar, conservation officer for Rewilding Portugal. Boosting predators is just one part of the rewilding effort in the region. Horses and native-breed cattle are also being released as ‘grazing fire-prevention squads’, keeping wildfires at bay by clearing dry shrubs. Similar efforts are underway to expand a fragile population of Marsican brown bears in the Central Apennines. The 60 remaining individuals are currently restricted to an area of land of between 1,500 and . 37 October 2020
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