News and Notes

Corridors, Connectivity and Ecological Health

The Half-Earth Project is working to halt and reverse the species extinction crisis currently facing our planet. To accomplish this, we are mapping species globally to identify the best places to protect the most species, and to use this information to wisely expand current species protections on land and sea to 50% of the Earth’s surface.

In a commentary published recently in Mongabay, Jody Hilty, president and chief scientist at Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, points out that creating isolated protected areas will not solve the problem alone. Ecological corridors — connectivity between protected areas — on land, freshwater and in the sea are a critical conservation designation needed to ensure that ecosystem functioning and ecological processes are maintained and restored.

Hilty defines a corridor as “a clearly defined geographical space that is governed and managed over the long-term to maintain or restore effective ecological connectivity.” This connectivity is critical to the health of species populations,” she said. “Connected, protected and conserved areas are stronger, and corridors are a major component in successfully fighting fragmentation and strengthening biodiversity.”

Hilty and her coauthors have released Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors, specifically addressing the “lack of consideration for connectivity between protected areas.”

“While the concept of an ecological corridor is easy to grasp, efforts to date to conserve corridors between protected areas have come up short,” Hilty writes. “This is in part due to the fact the concept is quite new and the conservation tools that we have in place were not developed with conserving connectivity in mind. Yet, the bulk of data demonstrates that, more than ever, maintaining ecological connectivity through corridors is key to conservation of our natural world.”

Recent congressional efforts also emphasize the importance of corridors. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, championed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and inspired by E.O. Wilson — the visionary biologist and author of Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life — authorizes federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands to boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and help safeguard iconic species amid a rising wave of habitat loss and extinctions.

“The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide the most important step of any single piece of legislation at the present time in enlarging the nations protected areas and thereby saving large swaths of America’s wildlife and other fauna and flora, especially in this critical time of climate change and shifting locations of the original environments in which a large part of biodiversity has existed,” E.O. Wilson said.

(Hear more on conservation corridors from E.O. Wilson on this podcast).

“As we face down a sixth mass extinction and climate change,” said Senator Udall, “these provisions are a major step toward better protecting wildlife and ultimately ourselves.”

While there is much to be done, work like that done by Hilty and her colleagues, Rep. Beyer and Sen. Udall, and many many other individuals and organizations are inserting biodiversity into our daily conversations and decision-making processes to ensure that species have the space they need to thrive, to the benefit of all.

The Half-Earth Project is identifying the places where conservation protections and management — including corridors — can protect the most species, and bring us to Half-Earth.

Join our efforts.