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Wildlife corridors between parks can help species live hundreds of generations longer, study finds

Wildlife animals crossing bridge in the Flathead Reservation area of Montana.
Adobe Stock
Wildlife animals crossing bridge in the Flathead Reservation area of Montana.

Researchers have new evidence that enhancing wildlife connectivity between national parks in the West would help animals live hundreds of generations longer.

A study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports analyzed the value of protected migration corridors between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and between Mount Rainier and Northern Cascades national parks. The findings show that establishing such linkages would boost wildlife populations, diversity, and their ability to adapt to climate change.

There's increasing pressure that's being placed on wildlife populations, not only in western North America, but worldwide,” said William Newmark, a curator at the Natural History Museum of Utah and lead author of the study. “One of the most effective ways to conserve medium to large mammal species communities is to create linkages between existing protected areas.”

The researchers' analysis of the Yellowstone-Glacier network included comparing current and historical migration patterns to estimate how quickly half of the parks' mammal species would be lost. They found that, if reconnected along those migratory routes, the wildlife in both parks would live about 682 generations longer.

“You could increase persistence time by a factor of 4.3 in the Yellowstone-Glacier Network relative to individual parks,” Newmark said.

Those routes tend to follow mountain ranges, which Newmark said is extremely helpful from a planning perspective.

“These mountain ranges are almost entirely public lands,” he said. “Most of them are managed by the national forest, so it's actually highly feasible to establish these linkages in this location …This is probably one of the most cost -effective ways that we have to conserve species worldwide.”

The authors noted that the proposed corridors cross two- and four-lane highways, req u iri ng multiple wildlife overpasses and underpasses. While those are increasingly common around the region — and recent federal investments promise more — Paul Beier, professor emeritus at Northern Arizona University and a study co-author, was quoted as saying in a news release that "a much greater effort will certainly be required if we are to reduce the known adverse impacts of highways on species movement and dispersal.”

Still, Newmark said the study's findings can be applied far beyond the American West.

“The patterns of species loss and habitat remnants are fragments are global patterns, and thus you can use this methodology, these equations that we derive to look at the effects of current activity on large mammal persistence and many other areas worldwide,” he said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Copyright 2023 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Emma VandenEinde

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