Co-hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Department of Interior, Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, the first annual Corridors, Connectivity, and Crossings Conference took place in May of this year. This conference was organized to educate land managers and wildlife professionals about the funding and tactics available to improve the safe migration of wildlife in the U.S. Conveniently for us, it was held in Tucson with approximately 270 people attending from all over the country. During the conference, Deputy Secretary Beaudreau and leaders from the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, many NGOs, and local wildlife experts highlighted the importance of managing land and wildlife with movement at the forefront.
For those unfamiliar with the lingo, the following are the differences between a wildlife corridor, a crossing, and connectivity. A wildlife corridor is a known tract of land that connects populations of wildlife otherwise separated by human development. The Borderlands Wildlife Preserve is an excellent example of a wildlife corridor connecting the Patagonia Mountain wildlife population with the wildlife population in the Santa Rita Mountains. A wildlife crossing is a human-constructed passageway, such as an overpass or underpass, allowing wildlife to cross roadways or other human developments safely. Wildlife connectivity refers to the larger process of unimpeded wildlife movement that sustains viable and healthy populations in the long term.
Many intriguing presentations were held, some sharing dramatic findings, like how the wildlife crossing in Payson, AZ, has reduced vehicle collisions with wildlife by 97%. Or, that fences altar the movement of ungulates up to 40% of the time, meaning many animals choose not to jump fences but rather to turn around entirely or pace the fence line until they find an opening. Other presentations focused on new technology, such as virtual fencing, that may revolutionize not only cattle ranching but also the ability of wildlife to cross safely through ranches that may no longer rely on the standard barbwire fence.
The information presented at the conference was instrumental in guiding land management for many wildlife preserves. The BWP is no exception. We are installing a wildlife-friendly fence instead of the standard five-strand barbwire fence to aid in the restoration of a perennial water source on the preserve. The wildlife-friendly fence has a smooth top and bottom wire, allowing animals to go under or over the fence safely. As you can see in the pictures, the spacing is also specific to allow young animals and certain species like pronghorn more room to pass underneath the fence. Additionally, in the future, we will be removing unnecessary fencing within the preserve to allow for more free and safe wildlife movement.
As many local Patagonia residents anticipate the inevitable increase in vehicle traffic from the local mining operations with disdain, it could be valuable to know that there is abundant federal funding to install wildlife crossings. This is not a simple or quick undertaking, but the numbers don’t lie. It saves wildlife and human lives. You can help by reporting vehicle collisions with wildlife to local law enforcement and ADOT, especially with larger animals such as deer or javelinas. Contact your local elected officials and mining operations and let them know you want to see wildlife crossings installed. Lastly, support organizations and landowners who do their best to preserve wildlife connectivity. It is vital for the current and future survival of our wildlife.