Wildlife corridors essential in an age of climate change, conservationist says

MONTREAL — For several years, conservationists have been stressing that ecological corridors, which allow wildlife to move between natural areas, are essential to preventing habitat fragmentation and ensuring the survival of animals such as lynx and bears.

But the need for corridors is becoming more urgent, given a UN report that concludes a million species are threatened with extinction, and the fact that many Canadian provinces could become 'climate refuges' for animals heading north to escape rising temperatures, according to Kateri Monticone of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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Last week, the conservation group, along with five others, met with some 40 partners in order to discuss how to maintain corridors in southern Quebec that are essential to the survival of species like lynx, which need about 70 square kilometres each in other to survive.

Monticone said the effort will also require more passages between Canada and the United States as animals will have to move to new areas in response to environmental changes.

"It's more and more needed if we're thinking about climate change," said Monticone, the conservation science manager for the Nature Conservancy of Canada in Quebec.

"Quebec, for example, will be a climate change refuge because animals are going north, about 45 kilometres per decade, so they need ecological corridors to be able to move north and be sure they survive."

She said the absence of passages from one natural area to the next can lead to species being isolated, unable to maintain their biodiversity or move to a new area if their habitat changes.

And while space is essential to predators like lynx and wolves, she said it's equally important to smaller species such as turtles, and many species of plants.

She said securing a natural corridor can mean making agreements with landowners as well as negotiating with urban and regional planners to ensure they integrate natural areas into development plans.

But it also means ensuring animals have a way to cross existing highways.

She said organizations such as Montreal's Concordia University and the Quebec's transport ministry have been studying the effectiveness of measures such as underpasses to allow animals to cross safely and reduce roadkill — which also benefits humans by reducing the number of animal-vehicle collisions.

Monticone said there has already been work done recently to strengthen the natural passages to allow passages between eastern Quebec, the Maritimes, and the states of Maine and Vermont. But she said the work is slow going, requiring negotiations with municipal and regional governments as well as hundreds of individual landowners.

"Every time we collaborate with an owner, we're talking about little puzzle pieces that are being added to connectivity, and we need several puzzle pieces to really create the ecological corridors we need," she said.

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