Animals in North America have a problem — they’re having a hard time moving around.
Migration is key for the survival of a lot of species. But in many places, developments like roads, highways, towns, industrial plants, or even entire cities form roadblocks that limit how far animals can move before they encounter humans in a potentially dangerous way. That's bad news on any day, but especially now that temperatures are on the rise. According to a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, only 41% of natural lands in the United States are connected enough to allow animals to trek safely toward cold enough habitats.
“Wildlife corridors” are areas of protected land where animals can carve an uninterrupted path from one place to another.
Scientists have begun looking for ways to build these "habitat hallways" by protecting and connecting wildlife areas, granting animals safe access to wider swaths of land. In some cases, like that of the Flatland River Valley, that means identifying existing wildlife areas that could easily be connected and moving to protect the land that lies between them.
In some habitats, conservation has to get creative — and the wildlife corridors that result are pretty cool.
Some wildlife areas are interrupted by just a thin highway, and though it doesn't take up much space, highways present a real danger to animals attempting to cross to safety. In Canada, architects solved that problem with a special landscaped bridge that allows large and small animals to safely cross the road. In Banff National Park, wildlife-vehicle collisions have dropped by more than 80% since these structures were built.
Another unusual wildlife corridor is the Bee Highway in Oslo, Norway. Airborne animals don't need continuous swaths of land in order to travel, but they still need places to land, feed, and rest along the way. So the people of Oslo went outside and built bee-friendly gardens and hives to provide the colonies safe passage through the city.
As manmade wildlife structures are being implemented in the U.S., we're seeing a steep decrease in deaths among wolves, moose, wild cats, bears, and more.
Colorado's Highway 9 used to be a problem location for drivers and animals, reporting over 650 vehicle-wildlife crashes since 2005 in just a 10-mile stretch of road. In 2015, the Department of Transportation built seven animal pathways over and under the highway. Sure enough, there were just two animals hit by cars the following winter — a fraction of the amount from earlier years.
Highway 9 happens to cross an area of land that serves as a migration pathway for a variety of wildlife species, which is why it saw so many animal casualties over the years. The protections put in place were designed to allow animals to reach the opposite side without having to cross the actual roadway — but for those that wind up there by mistake, widened shoulders and "escape ramps" provide a route off the road, and fences prevent the animals from wandering back.
All around the world, wildlife corridors connect habitats and are the key to millions of species’ survival.
From the Terai Arc in India and Nepal...
...to the U.S. Highway 93 Wildlife Crossings in Montana...
...to the crab crossings on Christmas Island...
...to the Tsavo East National Park in Kenya.
Animals of every size, shape, and habitat rely on humans to mitigate the damage that our developments have had on them by providing safe crossing to protected lands.
There are dozens of ways to protect and connect wildlife corridors to help animals survive rising temperatures.
Some, like the Bee Highway, are as easy as planting a garden in your community, while others like the Banff Overpass could help protect highway drivers as much as it protects the wildlife around it.
The problem of migration fragmentation is only going to have worse consequences as climate change continues. But we can help. Donate to organizations that help build corridors, like the National Wildlife Federation. Urge your representatives to support the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. Look for ways to support the wildlife in your area, and plant animal- and insect-friendly gardens that will provide a safe haven for traveling creatures.
It's up to us to make sure that animals are free to roam wherever they must in order to survive.