My Turn: To prevent extinctions, reconnect habitats through wildlife corridors

For the Monitor
Published: 11/3/2021 6:00:08 AM

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently said we should no longer consider 22 animal species and one plant species endangered. Normally, when you hear that, it’s a good thing, because once-endangered species are again thriving. But not this time. Instead, these species are now officially extinct.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland underscored one of the key reasons this is so tragic – because it happens again and again.

“The story arc is essentially the same,” she said. “Humans altered their habitat in a significant way, and we couldn’t or didn’t do enough to change the trajectory before it was too late.”

As depressing as Haaland’s statement is, it does give us guidance on how to fix the problem moving forward. We’ve altered habitats for the worse, and now we must change our behavior.

Of course, that’s no easy task. Roads, cities, buildings, farms, shopping malls, fences and more have fractured the habitats of wildlife. They have carved up America’s wildlands into smaller and smaller isolated islands.

Wildlife ends up cornered and locked in by human obstacles. This is incredibly disruptive, if not lethal, to New Hampshire’s animals. Endangered New England cottontails find themselves trapped at highway crossings by the steep granite cliffs that now line the road, areas where they once roamed unimpeded. Deer or moose on the side of the highway, hit by a car, is an all-too-common sight. At the same time, spying an endangered Canadian lynx, an elusive cat that used to roam the White Mountains, is now all too uncommon.

Beyond limiting our enjoyment and connection to nature, the loss of significant portions of these animal populations diminishes genetic diversity, making wildlife less able to adjust to other extinction-threatening hurdles from disease to climate change.

So what is the solution?

One answer is reconnecting smaller, isolated habitats through wildlife corridors. While this is already happening successfully in the Granite State, we must pick up the pace.

Environment America Research & Policy Center’s recent report, Reconnecting Nature, highlighted seven projects from across America the Beautiful that take the necessary approach of linking habitats to form larger spaces for animals to roam.

The spotlighted examples include one very close to home. The Northern Appalachian-Acadian Ecoregion extends through New Hampshire’s cherished White Mountains. Projects like the Stay Connected Initiative work to study animal movements and identify areas where wildlife crossings are needed in the eco-region, so species like black bears and lynx can migrate through the mountains.

What’s exciting is that funding for more projects like this could soon be on the way for New Hampshire. The bipartisan infrastructure bill currently being debated in the U.S. Congress provides $350 million for wildlife crossings over and under our nation’s roads.

These projects could have a considerable impact on New Hampshire because the package includes grant funding for states to ensure that wildlife can safely cross roads new and old.

Decision-makers in Congress, including Reps. Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, should seize opportunities to fund a broad set of wildlife corridors, in addition to funding road crossings. Here in New Hampshire, that might look like something as sweeping as conserving land connecting the Whites to the Ossippees, or something as small as removing a stream culvert so the brook trout can get where they need to go.

Our lives are richer when our surroundings are teeming with life. We need to reconnect nature and give species a foothold on survival. If we do that, the next time we see 23 species removed from the endangered list, won’t be because they went extinct but because they are thriving.

(Meghan Hurley, a Moultonborough native, works on conservation issues for Environment America. She represents Environment New Hampshire and other groups within the Environment America network.)

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