The Southern Rockies are blessed with a wealth of biological diversity. Alpine tundra, sagebrush grasslands, and forests mixed with pine and aspen are just a few of the native habitat types that contribute to the biological complexity of the region. Native cutthroat trout spawn in alpine streams, some of the nation’s largest deer and elk herds migrate between the river basins and high elevation mountains of northwest Colorado, and reintroduced lynx are gradually making a comeback in Colorado’s montane forests.
Now add a highway to this image. Now add another, and another. Add oil wells, houses, snowmobiles, ATVs, and mountain bikes. How can animals forage, hunt or raise their young in a landscape where they can no longer move freely and safely to different parts of their range? No one of these human impacts are solely responsible for irrevocable habitat fragmentation, but any one could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
We are fast approaching this critical threshold. Wide-ranging animals such as grizzly bears, wolves, lynx and wolverines have been extirpated from large portions of their range, while other species are pushed into increasingly smaller fragments. Habitat connectivity is fundamental to the conservation of native wildlife and habitats – without these connections many of our other efforts may be rendered ineffective. Leading conservation biologist E.O. Wilson notes that, “without connectivity, landscapes may be reduced to pathetic remnants that sustain few species and provide little ecological value.”
Yet, we still have a choice. We know that isolated islands of protected areas are not sufficient for healthy wildlife populations. We know that landscape connections are essential in allowing wildlife to adapt to habitat shifts due to climate change. We can use this knowledge to deflect from the path of irreversible destruction and fragmentation. We can maintain important landscape connections by protecting and restoring key habitat and constructing wildlife crossings to allow wildlife to move safely across their range.
From where I’m standing, not only do we have a choice, we have an incredible opportunity to prevent irrevocable habitat fragmentation and demonstrate our passion for these landscapes.
(Submitted to Center For Native Ecosystems, March 2009)