FREEDOM TO ROAM: Creating safe pathways for migrating species as natural habitats grow scarce in North America

Above: Elk crossing melting terrain in search of food, photo by Florian Shulz

If animals’ ability to move between habitats is blocked, scientists predict that as many as 25% of species will be extinct by the end of this century.

Things looked pretty grim last week after Schwarzenegger announced his plan to close 220 state parks in California, thereby endangering the habitats of many species of animals and plants. Not to mention that last month New York state announced a 55% cut of public funding to botanical gardens, aquariums and zoos to be enacted next year. Sadly, it’s becoming clear that in the face of this recession the protection of wildlife and biodiversity of our natural landscape has dropped dangerously low on the list of our government officials’ priorities.

In the midst of our concerns over the economy and this mad fund-cutting frenzy, many species indigenous to North America (grizzly bears, pronghorns, lynx, elk, and monarch butterflies, to name a few) are struggling to follow their natural migration patterns. This is due in part to the acceleration of global warming, which is causing their habitats to change dramatically as glaciers melt and temperatures rise. As animals are uprooted in search of a new place to graze, give birth or rear young, they must cross treacherous obstacles such as highways, roads, and urban sprawl, many ending up as roadkill in the process.

To help migrating animals cross these man-made barriers safely, Patagonia has developed a program called Freedom to Roam in an effort “to create, restore and protect wildways or corridors between habitats so animals can survive.” The program has been locating routes of migratory animals and building passageways under highways and freeways as safe alternatives for them to cross through. Since their construction, some passageways have reduced roadkill fatalities as much as 96%. Watch videos of successful crossings here.

The construction of these corridors is not some radical environmentalist’s fantasy; it is a necessary measure to protect our future as a planet, and should be treated with the same urgency as our economy. Wildlife corridors already exist in many other areas of the world, as other cultures recognize that we must help animals adapt their lives to modern civilization if they are to survive through rapid climate change, population growth and urban development:

The Netherlands contains over 600 wildlife underpasses and ecoducts that have been used to protect wild boar, red deer, roe deer and the endangered European badger. In India, a 37-mile-long, six-mile-wide corridor connects important tiger habitats in the Eastern Himalaya and the Western Ghats mountain ranges.

Learn more about wildlife corridors in this short documentary.

Read more about the ideas behind the Freedom to Roam coalition here.