Brain Food: Designing Wildlife Corridors

Apr 17, 2014

As highways, cities, canals and railroads continue to be built across the West, some natural landscapes are becoming fragmented into patches, too small to support populations of certain animals.

An elk crossing a wildlife corridor
Credit Courtesy photo

That’s why conservation biologist Paul Beier is designing wildlife corridors to help these animals navigate through the urban interface.

“And, if we don’t have these connections between natural areas, for our populations of species that exist at very low population densities, we’ll just lose entire populations, and we have lost populations of big horn sheep, Coues white-tailed deer. And, we would be at risk of losing most of our populations of mountain lions, black bears … and we don’t have a natural area big enough to support them,” he says.

Beier teaches in the Forestry Department at Northern Arizona University. He says creating wildlife corridors involves protecting land from development and ameliorating barriers.

“Here in Arizona we’ve done some very innovative work with elk-crossing structures. With these new structures in place, and associated fencing along the highway, we’ve actually greatly increased successful elk movement across these highways, and decreased mortality of elk and damaged vehicles and human life,” he says.

Beier is designing wildlife corridors all over the state working with contractors, public land managers and wildlife biologists.

“We live in a very special place where we have all of these creatures like black bears and mountain lions and elk and deer and big horn sheep and pronghorn. And I want to continue to enjoy that and I want them to be here in 20 or 50 or 100 years,” Beier says.