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Wildlife Corridors: Highways Built for Paws & Hooves

By Heather Hassel-Finnegan | Healthy Cities & Urban Planning, Urban Design

One of the greatest challenges in wildlife conservation is managing the effects of habitat fragmentation. The human population, as it sprawls across the landscape, develops wide swaths of land that were previously undisturbed animal habitat. Typically only areas that are hard to access (such as mountainsides) or offer poor quality agricultural land are spared. This means that animal populations are often dispersed in small pockets of habitat distributed across the landscape. Maintaining connectivity between these habitat fragments is essential.

Habitat Fragmentation Risks

Habitat fragmentation put many animal species at risk. Isolated animal populations face the risks of:

  • Increased competition for scarce resources
  • Inbreeding
  • Reduced genetic diversity
  • Dangerous travel conditions (because of the risks of being hit by vehicles)
  • Reduced habitat quality and higher likelihood of competition from invasive species

Wildlife corridors have the potential to combat the negative effects of habitat fragmentation on wildlife populations. These are continuous, linear, green spaces that form connections between isolated fragments. Some species may live within the corridor, while others use it primarily for travel between habitat patches. The corridors can vary greatly in scope.

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Wildlife corridors repair the damages of habitat fragmentation and protect various species of animals, including birds.

Examples of Wildlife Corridors

Some examples of types of wildlife corridors include:

  • Underpass tunnels that allow wildlife to cross under highways
  • Ropes or monkey bars that allow tree-dwellers to cross roads
  • Small-scale greenways that connect nearby patches of forest or marshland
  • Regional corridors that connect habitat across an entire geographic region

Natural wildlife corridors exist. These include areas like creeks that typically retain a small area on each side that is undeveloped and allows deer, birds, and other wildlife to travel undisturbed. Typically though, willful intent is needed for the development of wildlife corridors. The National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program published a guide called How Greenways Work that is an excellent reference for special interest groups who are working to maintain viable animal habitats in their communities.

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A rendering of a wildlife corridor design which would help protect animal habitats from urban development.

Organizations Improving Wildlife Corridors

Local governments, conservation organizations, and community groups have managed to design impressive wildlife corridors on many different scales.  Here are a few that could serve as an inspiration for aspiring conservationists:

  • The European Greenbelt is one of the most expansive wildlife corridors in the world. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature supports efforts to connect national parks and nature reserves along the former Iron Curtain that once separated communist Europe from the rest of the continent.
  • The People’s Way Partnership worked to create a series of wildlife crossing structures along Route 93 in the United States. These structures are used by large animals (like bears, elk, and deer) as well as smaller animals (like amphibians, birds, and and reptiles) that are also at risk from car strikes.
  • The Chicago Park District has proven that wildlife corridors are even possible in highly urban areas. A wildlife corridor is being established near a railroad line along the lakefront. It’s predicted that up to 5 million birds will use the corridor each year.

Feature Image: Wildlife corridors in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

About The Author

Heather Hassel-Finnegan
Heather is a Sustainability Specialist working in the healthcare industry. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and holds a Sustainability Professional Certificate. She has a background in Biology and Anthropology, and much of her past work focused on wildlife biology and conservation. Heather resides in the Philadelphia region with her husband and toddler daughters.