RICHMOND -- As biodiversity continues its decline, a new report highlights key projects that are working to reconnect nature through “wildlife corridors.” The report from Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center offers examples of how human-made barriers can be modified to allow animals to safely traverse through natural corridors between habitats.
Entitled Reconnecting Nature: How Wildlife Corridors Can Help Save U.S. Species, the report comes on the heels of the Biden administration’s recent America the Beautiful preliminary report, which pointed to wildlife corridors as a conservation priority. Additionally, the new report follows the inclusion of funding for wildlife crossings in proposed transportation reauthorization bills in the U.S. Senate and House. That legislation would provide the funds to build overpasses and tunnels so that wildlife can cross roads.
Wildlife corridors are not only a cost effective way to reduce human-wildlife interactions, but they are proven effective at mitigating safety hazards for both animals and humans. Outside of Charlottesville, the Virginia Department of Transportation instituted two wildlife corridors - an underpass and a box culvert - near one of the most highly trafficked areas of I-64. A two-year analysis of the corridor system found that these corridors reduced vehicle-wildlife collisions by 92 percent.
“Wildlife in Virginia are forced to navigate sprawling highways, roads, and townships and are often at risk of being hurt or killed by cars in trying to get from habitat to habitat,” says Lara Rix, a conservation campaign associate at Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. “We must take precautions to ensure that wildlife are protected and that both humans and wildlife alike are able to travel safely.”
Specifically, the report focuses on seven different types of wildlife corridor projects in the United States:
A natural bridge designed for use by wildlife that will span over the 10-lane 101 freeway near Los Angeles. The project aims to reconnect a population of cougars in the Santa Monica mountains with habitat in the nearby Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.
A project to protect the Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor, which is a 125-mile forested ridge in Kentucky that links up wilderness from Tennessee to Virginia.
A bird sanctuary in the heart of Chicago on Lake Michigan’s shores that provides stopover habitat for hundreds of bird species during their annual migrations.
An initiative to reunite grizzly bear populations in Montana and Wyoming with prime habitat in central Idaho by removing old logging roads, purchasing and protecting land and reforesting.
A network of protected land that will connect habitat in Northern parts of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire with wild areas in Maine and Canada. This will allow species to shift their ranges in response to climate change.
A joint project by the Wyoming Fish and Game Department and Wyoming Transportation Department to build a series of highway crossings throughout the state to safeguard big game animals like mule deer and endangered pronghorn during their annual migrations.
The removal of two dams along the Elwha River in Washington State, allowing salmon to once again spawn upstream and fill the ecological niche that they’ve occupied for many thousands of years.
Along with the report, the group created an educational “virtual tour of wildlife corridors” for those looking to virtually experience the corridor projects highlighted in the report.
“Virginia is home to some of the most iconic habitats in the country, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the James River Park System, and the animals that inhabit these beautiful places,” Rix said. “Wildlife corridors are a cost-effective and proven way to decrease instances of wildlife injury and death while also making roads and highways safer for human travel.”