Wildlife Corridors Help Animals Flee From Climate Change

By Brandon Keim

TO HELP ANIMALS survive climate change, setting aside nature reserves isn’t enough: to flee habitats made inhospitable by shifting climes, they also need “corridors” between wilderness areas.

Groups around the world are working to establish these wildlife highways, with varying degrees of success. In North America, the Wildlands Project is pushing for a huge “Yellowstone-to-Yukon” wildlife corridor. In Central America, conservationists are slowly and sporadically working on the Meso-American Biological Corridor. The dream: A monkey should be able to go up a tree in Panama and not have to climb down until it reaches Mexico. The grand vision of the IUCN is an uninterrupted connection between Argentina and Alaska along the hemisphere’s western mountain ranges.

The corridor idea is relatively new: conservationists once thought that preserves were enough. But groups of animals isolated from their species become genetically homogeneous, and don’t develop the diversity necessary to adapt to threats–especially that of climate change.

Corridors, say scientists, allow genes to mix–and beyond being a good idea environmentally, these sound like fun for people. Monkeys aren’t the only creatures that might like to follow the trees from Panama to Mexico.

Latest USFWS Survey
The latest FWS survey, released in June, shows 71 million Americans, (31 percent of Americans 16 or older), observed wildlife in 2006 and spent $45 billion doing it. That is followed by 30 million who fish, (13 percent ) and spend $41 billion and 12.5 million who hunt (5 percent) and spend $23 billion.The survey is updated every five years. It is the bible of wildlife recreation statistics. In all, more than 87 million Americans either hunted, fished or observed wildlife in 2006.

Incredible, however, is that they spent $120 billion that year. FWS economists say that is “roughly equal to Americans’ total spending at all spectator sports, casinos, motion pictures, golf course, country clubs, amusement parks and arcades combined.”

Up on the porch, of course, those numbers were not flitting through my head. I sat captivated by the sights, sounds and smells of the nearby pine, tamarack and birch trees, cooled by the breeze blowing off the water, and fascinated by mother loon just sitting.

But the survey does show some important changes. Wildlife watching climbed from 62.9 million participants in 1996 to 71.1 million in 2006 while hunting and angling numbers declined.

“After losing ground in the early 1990’s, wildlife related activities such as bird watching and photography increased 13 percent over the last decade,” FWS staffers reported. “Spending increased 19 percent.”

Meanwhile angler participation dropped 15 percent, from 35.2 million anglers in 1996 to 30 million in 2006. Hunting participation dropped by 10 percent, from 14 million to 12.5 million.

Both groups also spent less than in the past. Anglers spent $40.6 billion in 2006, the same as 2001, but 16 percent less than 1996. Hunters spent $22.7 billion last year which is down 14 percent from 1996.

All this, of course, only reinforced my belief that state and federal fish and wildlife managers have been missing the boat with their keen, but narrow focus on hunters and anglers. There is clearly another wildlife constituency that might be tapped for money. But then, they would probably ask for something back. And that, I’m afraid, might take an entire column to discuss. –Grand Rapids Press