Who hasn’t experienced it?
It’s dusk and you are driving home, radio playing or kids talking in the backseat. Maybe your phone rings and you look down, or you are looking ahead the whole time. It takes just a second, and there is nothing you can do to stop.
A deer is suddenly in front of you.
Every 26 seconds an animal is hit on American highways costing $1billion a year and causing 165 human deaths. Some of these animals are small, common creatures like squirrels, turtles or raccoons, not much more than a bump on the road. Others are the large herbivores: moose, elk or deer capable of totaling your car. Birds of prey, eagles and hawks are often hit. Other times it’s a predator: a fox, coyote, or bear. Even insects are not immune, butterflies, bees and bugs all meet their end on the front of our cars.
Why did the deer cross the road?
Not to get hit by a car. They are trying to get to the other side.
Why do animals cross the road?
Some people live in huge mansions, while others live in tiny houses only taking up 200 sq feet. No matter what the size of our house, all humans need space to live. The space we need isn’t limited to the size of our house, it includes our work space and the network of roads to get us from here to there. We travel to the grocery, to the doctor, to visit our friends. Humans need a lot of space to live. So do animals.
Every animal needs a certain amount of space to survive. Some animals like wolves need lots of space. A wolf can travel 30 miles a day in search of food. Packs need an area at least 50 square miles. That is larger than the city of San Francisco. Other animals need less and some require more, but each species has its own requirements based on what they need to survive.
Imagine you live in a tiny house on a tiny lot. The space inside your tiny refrigerator is just that, tiny. That means you have to visit the grocery store more. Now imagine that your tiny house is surrounded by a 4 lane highway and you don’t have a car. You are hungry and the grocery store is on the other side of the highway.
You are going to have to cross the road.
This is the dilemma animals face every day. As the population of humans increases, we use more and more land for ourselves. As a result animals are pushed into pockets of land, here and there, dotted across the country. Animals have less and less space to find food.
Habitats (animal homes) can occur in all sizes, from large tracts of preserved land like Yellowstone National Park to a small local nature preserve of a few acres. Animals and plants depend on these habitats for survival.
A subdivision with a park may be home to some deer, a mile down the road an empty lot with a raccoon, and across the highway is an old creek at the interchange with a lone opossum. These small areas become islands of habitat. And these areas are getting smaller and farther apart. This is called habitat fragmentation.
Habitats become fragmented through human activity or natural processes. The most obvious cause due to human activity is the construction of roads. The United States has over 164,000 miles of highways alone, making up only 1% of public roads in the country. It is estimated that 6,500 miles of roads are added each year. Many of these roads, like highways, are very dangerous for wildlife to cross.
Another human activity that fragments habitat is urban sprawl. As the human population grows and people move from cities to more undeveloped land becomes homes. The American lawn now takes up 30-40 million acres of land. This land that is now lawn and concrete was once wildlife habitat.
These fragments or ‘islands’ of habitat also have an increased exposure to human activities. They are noisier. Highway sounds can prevent a songbird from hearing a mate. Runoff from roads contains high levels of salt and other chemicals which attracts large animals to the road edges. The activity from a nearby playground may prevent a bird from nesting or domestic dogs may find a fox den and kill the kits. Any way you look at it, fragmentation hurts wildlife.
So now imagine our deer trying to cross the road. Unlike its human counterpart living in the tiny house, a deer cannot call Uber or a friend for a ride. Unlike the human crossing the road, the deer doesn’t understand stop lights or yellow lines. A deer dashes across the road.
But what if you could help the deer cross the road safely?
Backyards combating habitat fragmentation
What if there were a network of safe zones connecting the fragmented habitats? These wildlife corridors would allow animals to move safely from one area to another. Backyards are key for this.
Wildlife corridors are long, narrow pathways of habitat that connect fragmented patches left from human activity. These corridors provide food and shelter to the animals that use them. Imagine them as roads for wildlife. They allow wildlife and plants to move safely from one space to another.Wildlife corridors allow wildlife and plants to move safely from one space to another. Click To Tweet
Wildlife corridors also serve as a meeting place for wildlife. Corridors allow wildlife and plants to mingle. Without these pathways, a deer on the west side of a city will never meet the deer on the east side. This meeting is important because it allows the animals and plants to have more genetic diversity. High genetic diversity lowers the chance for extinction.
Wildlife corridors also increase local biodiversity. Studies have found that corridors have a strong positive effect on biodiversity.
There are many types of corridors, and they can be divided into two categories: intentional and unintentional.
Unintentional wildlife corridors are riparian areas linking wetlands, wild lands in mountains ranges and green ways along highways.
Intentional wildlife corridors are human created. These include overpasses or underpasses for wildlife near highways, land conservation in a chain pattern and a network of protected watersheds.
But the most important intentional wildlife life corridor is your backyard!
How your backyard can become a wildlife corridor
Make it a wildlife safe zone. To do this, remove anything that may harm wildlife from your backyard. The great thing is you won’t only be making it safer for wildlife, but for your family as well.
Things that may harm wildlife
- Outdoor cats
- Chemical treatments on lawns, driveways and homes
- Open water sources with steep sides
- Old food left outside
- Pieces of metal, like nails
- Ropes or fishing line that may entangle an animal
Lead by example and add wildlife habitat essentials to your backyard. Animals need food, water and shelter if they are going to move through your backyard to the next habitat. Need ideas? Read my article on 3 Wildlife Habitat Essentials that You Need Now.
Encourage your neighbors to do the same. This may be the most important part of using backyards as wildlife corridors. For your backyard to be part of a true corridor it must be connected to other backyards. As you add wildlife habitat essentials to your backyard your neighbors will notice. If they ask, tell them what you are doing and tell them you need their help.
To get your neighbor’s curiosity, plant high wildlife value plants in visible locations. This may mean some butterfly weed in your front flowerbeds, a line of native shrubs on the property line or a small meadow that a neighbor can see from a window. You may add some signs to your yard, designating it as a wildlife habitat or butterfly garden.
You will be surprised how many of your neighbors will be interested and want to get involved.
So this spring take one of these ideas and try it. When you do you will be one step closer to owning a wildlife corridor.