by Tara Pepperman
Director of Cooperative Sanctuary Programs for Audubon International.
When human development happens, removing existing wildlife habitat is inevitable. This causes habitat to be broken up into small patches where wildlife can have a harder time surviving. When patches become too small, and aren’t easily linked to other areas, many species can become displaced.
The best way to mitigate the reduction of habitat is to create what are known as wildlife corridors within your park, golf course or recreation area. These corridors will allow all species access to the food, water and interactions they need to thrive.
Scientific research shows that all animals, even birds, prefer to travel along habitat corridors rather than cross clearings or other obstacles. In one study, songbirds chose wooded routes to travel between forested patches, even when they were three times as long as cutting across a clearing.
Even species that live in more open habitats use corridors for travel. Butterflies, for example, use grassy corridors to move between open clearings surrounded by dense woodland, and their numbers are typically higher in patches connected by corridors than in isolated patches.
Creating and maintaining these corridors should become an important part of your environmental management plan, whether it be short- or long-term.
How Do I Start?
The first thing you need to do is think about the questions you are trying to answer:
1. What kind of species are on my property? Having an up-to-date wildlife inventory will help with this question! Try to focus on identifying the needs of endangered species or species of concern first.
2. Where do those animals thrive, and what kind of plants would give the cover they want? Smaller
animals require understory or tall grass, while birds and larger animals feel most comfortable with larger trees.
3. Where can I create these corridors? Look at a map! This will help you identify areas that could be used as corridors.
Corridors should be just that: pathways for wildlife to cross your property without being in the open.
Ideally, the corridor would create a path to cross the entire property, but also look for opportunities to connect outside forest habitats with ponds in the center of your course.
Sometimes habitat corridors can be combined with other conservation projects. Many of our members maintain vegetated buffer zones to protect the edges of streams, rivers, or other water bodies from run-off. These buffers often can be connected to nearby patches of habitat to serve as corridors. The Golf Club at Newcastle in Washington State has a great example of naturalization of their creek area, which is also a corridor from one part of the course to another. Using bridges to allow wildlife to travel above or below paths without disturbance is important when areas used by humans and wildlife cross.
Sometimes, properties can be ideal areas for wildlife to cross in a flat open state. A perfect example of this is at the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club in Wyoming, where the annual elk migration to the National Elk Wildlife Refuge crosses the course. The course’s open areas, natural to Jackson Hole, provide a great migration path for this species, which travel through in huge numbers!
Although it is not the best case scenario, having a cart path cross a wildlife corridor is sometimes hard to correct without a major construction project. In this case, high tree cover over the path will still allow this to be a great corridor for birds. Creating signs, such as those at Cozumel Country Club in Mexico, as part of an outreach and education program directed at patrons is important in this situation.
How wide/large should my corridor be?
There are no simple rules about how wide or tall a naturalized area must be in order to serve as a corridor. One study found that only corridors over 33 feet wide were used by the birds on that site, while another found that a vole used corridors only 1.5 feet wide. Just remember to think about the species on your property, and put yourself in their “shoes.”
Remember, all living things need these four basic things to survive: food, water, shelter and space. Thinking about this during projects on your property can ensure wildlife are always taken into consideration. Corridors give your property to ability to provide all four of these basic survival needs and make it an ideal place for wildlife to thrive.