This blog was authored by The Public Interest Network Intern Sarah Crawford
Twenty-three species were declared extinct in the United States in September, underscoring the urgency with which we must act to stave off further losses. Environment America is advocating for the creation of wildlife corridors as one of the key to ways to save these species. A new report from our research partners, “Reconnecting Nature: How wildlife corridors can help save species,” outlines seven different examples.
In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) declared 23 species extinct, and a million more species could disappear by the end of the century. Experts cite development — urban expansion, highways, fences and man-made barriers that divide habitats and disrupt ecosystems — as one of the factors driving species toward extinction.
One solution? The creation of wildlife corridors, which can reconnect habitats with natural strips of land that allow animals to cross roadways and other man-made barriers. These corridors allow animals to access their homes and follow their typical migration patterns without interruption from increasing urban development.
Why it matters
With disruption from climate change and the weakened the Endangered Species Act left by the Trump administration, many species such as the majestic monarch butterfly have slipped closer to extinction than ever. When animals cannot access their natural habitats, their mating pools also become smaller, which leads to higher rates of inbreeding and disease. If we don’t take action, we will face more extinctions in the coming years.
Urban development that fragments animal habitat also disrupts hunting and foraging, threatening entire ecosystems as well as the well-being of species with stable populations. With fractured hunting grounds, predators must hunt for different kinds of prey, forcing aggression between animals of the same species as their territories begin to overlap. Plus, migratory animals and foragers are barricaded from the habitats they typically occupy, stymieing animals from dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and finding the food they depend on.
Wildlife corridors offer a solution by knitting together fragmented habitats, allowing animals to access more resources and continue to contribute to their environments. In reconnecting fragmented ecosystems, these corridors increase many species’ chances of survival.
The big picture
Every minute, the United States loses two football fields of natural land to urban development, which is a major threat to our endangered species, many of which are already in a precarious position due to climate change. So we’re advocating for wildlife corridors since they help animals stay in their natural habitats and prevent more devastating extinctions from occurring.
Research suggests that wildlife corridors can make a big difference in a species’ survival chances. One example highlighted in Environment America’s report is a proposed natural bridge across a 10 lane highway outside of Los Angeles. The purpose of this corridor would be to connect cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains to another cougar population in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains. This would give cougars more space to live and increase the size of their mating pool. A national Park Service and UCLA study said that introducing just one new cougar to the Santa Monica Mountains every two to four years would reduce the likelihood of the species’ extinction by 2.4%.
The proposed Burnham Wildlife Corridor, on the other hand, is not a path connecting habitats but a wilderness sanctuary outside of Chicago where butterflies and birds can find refuge and food on their migration paths. This corridor ensures that these migratory animals will still be able to travel between two locations, which is essential to their survival and the well-being of the different ecosystems they contribute to.
There is much to be done to save our endangered species, and using wildlife corridors to get them back to their homes is an important start that will give them a fighting chance at survival.
Learn more: Read the full report.
Photo: Tim Koerner/USFWS via Flickr, CC BY 2.0