What Are Wild Link Corridors?
Wildlife (ecological) corridors are connections between existing natural areas, river corridors, and blocks of fragmented habitat that allow the unrestricted movement of wildlife and protect water quality.
Wildlife needs a certain amount of space to survive. This space is becoming increasingly fragmented as roads and development carve up the rural landscape. When corridors are properly maintained or enhanced, they connect parcels of wildlife habitat, which can significantly increase the territory available for animals, while improving the overall quality and value of the land.
For example, a wetland that follows a creek might adjoin several existing public or privately owned natural areas. If the wetland is on your property and is managed properly, it will benefit not only the wildlife passing through, but improve the overall water quality.
Creeks and rivers and the forested areas along them are critically important because while they account for only 5 percent of the total forest ecosystem, they typically contain 75 percent of the forest's plant and animal diversity.
The bottom line of the WildLink program is to keep things off the Endangered Species list. Allowing plants and animals safe access to the land they need to find food, mates and shelter is crucial in this effort.
Are Wildlife Corridors Necessary in Northern Michigan?
Images of Duck Lake (Betsie River headwaters area) in 1940 and 1994 clearly show the urgency of the WildLink project. In 1940, you can clearly see good, connected habitat with intact and functioning ecological corridors. As the land becomes increasingly subdivided, habitats are broken apart and connections are lost.
If the Duck Lake images are not enough to shock our Northern Michigan audience, projections for the built area will.
The Grand Traverse and Little Traverse Bay regions are subdividing faster than any other part of the Great Lakes region and are therefore the most vulnerable. Protected public land, state forests and federal forests are being more and more isolated, or "fragmented" as biologists would say. The biggest threat to wildlife is losing the connections.
The good news is Conservation Resource Alliance's (CRA) voluntary WildLink program to help land owners manage their land in ways that connect the dots. In the last few years we have put corridors on maps and hired an expert to critique our approach. Grants are currently underwriting much of the mapping and management program proposals being prepared by CRA for land owners whose properties intersect ecological corridors.
How Are Wildlife Corridors Mapped and Created?
Mapping the ecological corridors used by wildlife is an ongoing project and a very important part of the WildLink Program. Careful mapping by our biologists and partner organizations identifies how parcels of land may be safely connected to benefit wildlife and often enhance the value of the land involved. Mapping the corridors is a critical issue in determining their success or failure. Wildlife typically follows streams, lakes and wetlands in order to capture food and water as well as find places for travel and breeding.
Understanding the needs of native species and the proper size and location of corridors is vital knowledge CRA brings to the program. CRA helps avoid many unseen pitfalls such as poor water quality, inadvertently promoting non-native species over native ones, and the over-abundance of nuisance wildlife species. With the cooperation of WildLink land owners, CRA expects that corridors will provide enough functional connection for safe passage of the desired wildlife species well into the future.