WCS North America

The Initiatives of Conserving Habitat Connectivity

As pronghorn antelope approach Highway 191 in Wyoming’s Trapper’s Point area, they retreat. The highway structure and the steady line of cars and trucks passing create a barrier for the migrating animals. It takes two hours before the pronghorn cross the highway, causing them to waste valuable time and energy. Roads, development, and increasing human activities across the landscape are fragmenting intact habitat.

Species, including iconic ungulates (caribou, bison and pronghorn), carnivores (wolverine, wolves, and grizzly bear), and migratory birds require room to roam outside of core protected lands. As species migrate in search of resources, to find mates, and to find secure breeding grounds, they come into contact with more roads, oil and gas wells, and other types of development.

An increasing body of evidence indicates that human activities and development near protected areas creates barriers that isolate wildlife populations, cut off access to vital resources, and ultimately lead to species loss.

The Wildlife Conservation Society works to conserve wildlife over the long term by conserving and restoring large landscapes, connecting core habitats, and protecting connectivity in critical linkage areas. We work across a mosaic of public and private lands to map the habitat needs of species, identify priority migration routes, and ascertain how structures interfere with connectivity. WCS translates connectivity science into action by designing large-landscape, multi-jurisdictional conservation strategies, promoting the co-existence of wildlife and humans in the landscape, and advising agency and private partners on connectivity issues. 

Goals

WCS aims to:

Understand the habitat needs of a suite of species—including wolverine, pronghorn, migratory birds, and woodland caribou—that in turn represent the habitat connectivity needs of a larger set of species.
  • We do this through rigorous field science and by forecasting how climate change will impact natural systems and species’ ranges.
Integrate best science principles into connectivity planning as agencies and public and private stakeholders develop natural resource policies.
  • We do this by building a robust science platform for corridor conservation and working with state, regional, and national decision-makers as they identify crucial habitat linkage zones.
Establish on-the-ground examples that conserve and restore ecological connectivity to provide models for multi-jurisdictional, large landscape conservation.
  • We do this by providing the scientific rationale for protecting high-value areas of land and freshwater.  

Activities

Conserving Priority Habitat Linkage Areas in the Crown of the Continent

In the Crown of the Continent area of Montana, WCS is assessing the habitat value of 1.4 million acres of currently roadless areas under the jurisdiction of the US Forest Service. The aim is to understand the connectivity value of these lands to a set of focal species, including grizzly bear, wolverines, lynx, elk, mountain goats, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat trout. WCS is examining the species distribution and relative abundance, while taking a closer look at the effects of climate change, species’ movements, and connectivity relative to other lands. Recommendations as to the final designation and management of these areas will be released in a report in April, 2011. Read More >>

Saving Wildlife Migrations

WCS is focusing on prioritization of vulnerable terrestrial, aquatic, and avian migrations for conservation action. Wildlife migrations—the phenomena where hundreds if not thousands of animals innately head to a destination that offers them resources or safety—can be critical for the long-term persistence of many populations. Fragmentation and changes in resources brought on by climate change may imperil some key migrations in the West. Building on our leadership in establishing the first federally designated wildlife corridor, the Path of the Pronghorn, WCS is working with state and federal agencies and conservation science organizations to identify, prioritize, and profile the 30 most vulnerable migrations in western North America. This report will be shared in June, 2011, to help build support for the conservation of endangered migration spectacles.

Transportation and Wildlife

Road and highway construction increases each year in the U.S. and roads now cover 1-2% of North America. Badly planned highways near vulnerable habitat and the fencing, bridges, and drainage systems related to highways can cut off wildlife migrations, limit access to resources, and isolate populations from each other. WCS works with departments of transportation and land-use planning agencies to assess how pronghorn, elk, moose, and mule deer are impacted by highways, predict where vehicle collisions may occur, and promote the installation of wildlife-friendly crossing structures. In addition to ongoing projects (US Route 20; Path of the Pronghorn), WCS recently published Safe Passages: Highways, Wildlife, and Habitat Connectivity (2010)

Wildlife Connectivity in the Adirondacks

Wildlife Connectivity In The Adirondacks Read More >>

Accomplishments

Path of the Pronghorn: The First Federally Designated Wildlife Corridor 
All of the Grand Teton National Park's pronghorn depend on a single migration corridor to move between GTNP and winter ranges in the Green River valley in Wyoming. After years of studying this last remaining pronghorn migration in and out of the park, and identifying the barriers to their movement along several bottlenecks, WCS successfully demonstrated the need to protect this migration route. In 2008, the Path of the Pronghorn became the first federally designated migration corridor, protecting 45 miles of it, and safeguarding the second-longest mammal migration in North America. 

 
Protecting Carnivore Linkages in the High Divide
The Centennial Mountains provide vital lands between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana and the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem of Idaho. From 2001 to 2005, WCS studied the use of this area by grizzly bear, wolverine, wolf, and mountain lion and identified this corridor as critical for these four carnivore species. This information influenced the BLM to close 40% of the roads on lands under their jurisdiction, an act that has helped protect carnivore habitat connectivity in the High Divide.

Latest Publications

All Connectivity Publications >>

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Contact

WCS North America Program
301 North Willson Avenue Bozeman, MT, 59715 USA
(406) 522-9333

Key Staff

Jon Beckmann
Connectivity Initiative Coordinator
Renee Seidler
Pronghorn Field Leader
All Connectivity Staff >>