On a recent drive to Colorado, we unknowingly drove on one of the most dangerous roads in the area, hazardous due to wildlife collisions. It wasn’t a large amount of dead animals on the side of the road that alarmed us, but instead we noticed a high wooden fence about 50 feet on either side of the road for long stretches. Periodically there was a drift fence, strategically placed perpendicular to the high fence, meant to channel animals up an embankment to get back on to the correct side of the fence. As we continued traveling at about 70 mph, we drove under a wildlife corridor and soon over another one. The fences and wildlife corridors, which were put up in 2015, demonstrate how Colorado is using creative ideas to find a way for humans and wildlife to coexist.
I couldn’t help but think about how these techniques and others utilized around the world could be incorporated into our Dallas area to allow a big city to exist with a robust ecosystem. With recent coyote and bobcat sightings on the rise in city limits, now is the best time to utilize innovation to manage our wildlife populations. Designing solutions for wildlife and humans to live together will also save us money and lives. Vehicles hit an estimated one to two million animals every year in the U.S. costing billions of dollars in damage. These incidents have led to many human deaths as well.
Wildlife corridors are habitats that provide connections to different areas used by a diversity of wild animals. Corridors can allow wildlife to safely navigate over or under a road, get around human development or help migrating fish bypass a dam. In south Texas, the ocelot (a small spotted member of the cat family) is listed as endangered in big part due to habitat fragmentation. As humans continue to build roads, shopping plazas, housing and more, the thick brush areas ocelots prefer is decimated, leaving partial habitats with no safe connections between them. Ocelots are forced to traverse urban areas causing mortalities by car collisions. Corridors have been developed to give the cats a way to travel between sparse habitat to hunt, breed and raise young.
Dallas has limited natural wildlife habitats that are fragmented and disappearing fast due to urban sprawl. The Trinity forest (the largest hardwood urban forest in the U.S.), Trinity River corridor, White Rock Lake, the Katy Trail and other various parks around our city are critical habitats for urban wildlife. For example, the Trinity River corridor is an important stopover break for several migrating birds and bats. Bees, important pollinators on a sharp population decline, utilize every small habitat within our city, from local parks, roof tops to small herb gardens. Each species needs a safe way to travel between fragmented habitats, and wildlife corridors can provide a sheltered route. Adaptive infrastructure is a way to use current available habitats, plan for ecological interaction and incorporate strategies to connect habitats across the urban landscape.
Preserving the larger predators is critical to keeping the ecosystem intact. After killing off mountain lions and wolves in Texas, we have removed all of the top predators, forcing us to manage our deer populations through hunting. After wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, the entire environment changed. The presence of wolves altered the behavior of animals, which in turn, affected the river and landscapes. (If you have not watched George Monbo ‘s TED talk on this click here.) The presence of top predators returned the area to a thriving ecosystem.
Although our fears of bobcats and coyotes are culturally strong, we need to find a way to live with these animals, even in an urban environment. Our world depends on it. Using the current wildlife corridors working around the world, creative minds and collaboration across businesses, city government and the community, we can find unique ways to coexist with all of our urban native wildlife.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.