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Biologist: Protecting Migration Key to Conserving Wildlife

Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to migrating species around the world. (Mark A. Bauer/USGS)
Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to migrating species around the world. (Mark A. Bauer/USGS)
April 22, 2019

HELENA, Mont. – One of the key threats facing wildlife today is its ability to move.

But efforts to protect safe migration corridors are gaining steam around the world.

Jodi Hilty is co-editor of "Corridor Ecology: Linking Landscapes for Biodiversity Conservation and Climate Adaptation," which comes out Tuesday with its second edition.

Hilty also is president and chief scientist for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, which is one of the most intact mountain regions in the world.

She says the conservation world is realizing that connecting habitats is integral for both plant and animal species.

"Those isolated islands of habitat are more likely to lose species,” she states. “So it's really a matter of making sure that we both protect big enough core areas and that we also are able to maintain the opportunity for movement between fragments of habitat that are left."

As an example, Hilty cites the grizzly bear, which used to have a habitat that expanded to the Mexican border but now only lives in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the United States.

She says those bears face the threat of dying off without connection to more grizzlies to the north.

Hilty notes that the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative has helped double the amount of protected areas in the region since its creation in 1993 and says countries around the world are protecting wildlife corridors.

"The discussion is starting to move from just thinking about protected areas as the solutions for conserving all of our biodiversity to thinking about large landscape conservation, thinking about what protected areas we need, where they're placed and how we connect them so that they can function as a better system," she points out.

The newest edition of "Corridor Ecology" also includes discussion of climate change's effect on migrating species.

Hilty says numerous studies have shown the range for species of all kinds have started to shift because of climate change, but they can butt up against human development, making it hard for them to survive.

She says that makes the mission of connecting landscapes even more important.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT