Columnist Johanna Neumann: It’s time to reconnect with nature

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Posted: 11/17/2021 18:12:28 PM

Earlier this fall, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared 23 species extinct. Home Secretary Deb Haaland said of these species: “The arc of the story is essentially the same. Humans have changed their habitat significantly, and we couldn’t or did not do enough to change the course before it was too late.

The news is sobering, even depressing, but Haaland’s quote gives us clues. Human development has altered habitats for the worse, and now we have to solve this problem on our own. Of course, it is not an easy task. Roads, towns, buildings, farms, malls, fences and more have carved America’s wild lands into smaller and smaller isolated islands. The wildlife gets stuck, locked in by human obstacles. To state the obvious, this is incredibly disruptive, even fatal, for migrating animals that need space to hunt, mate, or seek new territory.

As animal populations become isolated from each other, genetic diversity increasingly decreases, making wildlife less able to adapt to other obstacles threatening extinction such as disease and disease. climate change.

Suppose most of the time we can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube. That is, we cannot restore all the land to its once wild state. If so, what is there to do?

One strategy is to reconnect smaller, isolated habitats. In other words, actively work to reconnect nature. Conservation ecology tells us that this practice can make a difference.

A local example is the Henry Street Salamander Tunnel in North Amherst. Henry Street crosses wooded ridges where spotted salamanders spend most of their lives and spring pools where salamanders mate and lay their eggs. In the late 1980s, a community effort resulted in two tunnels being built under Henry Street and the installation of anti-drift fences that guide the salamanders through the tunnels and protect them from being crushed by tires on Henry Street. . A team of volunteers coordinated by the Hitchcock Center for the Environment help maintain the tunnels and protect them from debris.

Other examples of projects that reconnect habitats to form larger spaces for animals to roam about can be found in the recent Reconnecting Nature report from Environment America Research & Policy Center. The seven examples highlighted in the report include a “natural” bridge crossing the 10-lane 101 Freeway near Los Angeles. This particular bridge should especially benefit cougars, who face serious problems related to low genetic diversity. Another example is Wyoming fencing, which is similar in concept to drift fencing installed near Henry Street. In Wyoming, the state has installed fences that guide elk, antelopes, and deer to wildlife crossings on state highways. This project has reduced collisions between wildlife and cars by 80%.

President Biden this week enacted the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes $ 350 million for wildlife crossings on and under our nation’s roads. Including these funds in the infrastructure package makes perfect sense. Infrastructure has long been synonymous with roads that kill wildlife, and this infrastructure bill is no different. But now, smartly, the infrastructure also includes grants for states to ensure that wildlife can safely cross new and old roads.

Wildlife crossings and habitat reconnection help protect species like Amherst’s Spotted Salamanders or Santa Monica Pumas. The key is to invest in these solutions to protect America’s unique and incredible collection of special, beautiful, fierce and wild species and, to borrow from Deb Haaland, to “change course” before more of them. they don’t disappear.

In addition to the Infrastructure Bill, Congress is expected to seize other opportunities to fund a wider set of wildlife corridors, including those included in the Build Back Better Bill, also known as the Bill budget reconciliation. And heads of state should seize the opportunities to reconnect nature for our aquatic, terrestrial and avian species.

Our lives are richer when our environment is full of life. Now is the time to reconnect with nature and give species a foothold in survival. This will help us avoid future sobering news stories like one where 23 species are declared extinct forever.

Johanna Neumann, of Amherst, has spent the past two decades working to protect our air, water and open spaces, advocate for consumers in the marketplace, and advance a more sustainable economy and democratic society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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