CHICAGO-- As biodiversity continues its decline, a new report highlights key projects that are working to reconnect nature through “wildlife corridors,” including a bird sanctuary in the heart of Chicago that provides stopover habitat for hundreds of bird species during their annual migrations. The report, released by Environment Illinois Research & Education Center on Thursday, offers replicable 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 America the Beautiful preliminary report, which pointed to wildlife corridors as a conservation priority. Additionally, the new report follows the inclusion of $350 million in funding for wildlife crossings -- tunnels and overpasses -- in the infrastructure bill that recently passed the U.S. Senate.
“For too long a labyrinth of roads, fences and sprawl has penned animals into smaller and smaller habitats,” said Wendy Wendlandt, president of Environment America Research & Policy Center. “The key now is to connect these small habitat ‘islands’ through corridors. Doing so can give wildlife the space they need to hunt, mate and migrate.”
The Burnham Wildlife Corridor in Chicago is a key replicable example of an urban sanctuary for migrating birds. The corridor provides stopover habitat for flying species like the federally endangered Great Lakes piping plover and monarch butterflies as they make their long seasonal journeys.
In addition to the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, the report highlights six 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.
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.
“Many of America’s most beloved species – from the Florida panther to the pronghorn and the monarch butterfly – are under threat due to the degradation of their native habitats,” said U.S. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, who has proposed wildlife corridors legislation in the U.S. House. “If we do not act soon, we are in grave danger of losing them forever. Urgent action needs to be taken by everyone, from private landowners to the federal government. There is no doubt that we need to take a major step forward in preserving and protecting these endangered species, to give them a fighting chance to survive.”
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania echoed the importance of wildlife corridors in curbing the world’s biodiversity decline.
“The disruption and fragmentation of natural wildlife habitats remain among the greatest threats to biodiversity and conservation efforts, both here in Pennsylvania and globally,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “As animal extinction continues to accelerate at alarming rates, our focus must remain on establishing a network of wildlife crossings to improve habitat connectivity.”
In addition to the America the Beautiful proposal and the senate-passed iInfrastructure bill, the Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act -- introduced by Sen. Ben Ray Luján from New Mexico and Rep. Ruben Gallego from Arizona -- was recently introduced and would create a grant program for wildlife crossings, animal migration research and conservation projects in areas important for wildlife movement.
“America is blessed with amazing wildlife, and it’s our job to help protect it,” said Paloma Paez-Coombe, associate at Environment Illinois Research and Education Center. “Right here in Chicago, we have a working example of a key protection tool in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. The U.N. warns that more than one million species are at risk of extinction within decades, and we need every tool in the toolbox to protect the natural world around us. Wildlife corridors work, and we must embrace them, quickly.”