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Building an Interstate Highway for Wildlife

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The lynx had traveled three times down the Rocky Mountain States from Canada to Colorado to mate, before it was shot, on a return trip home to Alberta. "I've never shot a lynx with a collar before," said the trapper who handed its tracking collar over to authorities. To Canadian Harvey Locke, founder of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), the cross border travels of the lynx is proof positive of our need to preserve vast landscapes of parks and wilderness as migratory corridors for wildlife.

Locke calls this Y2Y initiative "an Interstate highway for wildlife", and has even printed up a small bumper sticker that looks like a typical Interstate road sign in the U.S. However, this one has a grizzly bear in the center.

The grizzly, in fact, is one of the most watched animals on the grass covered bridges in Alberta, Canada. These specially designed bridges cross the high speed highways that link the national parks of Banff and Jasper -- and the sight of a grizzly bear crossing one is startling. To keep tabs on the number and variety of animal crossings each day, each bridge is mounted with video cameras that answer the question: Are the animals using it?

According to Locke, smaller animals like deer, pronghorn antelope, and mountain sheep, learn over time to use underpasses beneath the highways. Larger mammals, such as grizzly, elk and moose, need bridges. Once built, it may take them 3-5 years to learn to use the bridge. When these migration pathways are added to road systems, say experts studying their use, road kill drops by 80%.

"Nature needs half," Locke reminds. When we think about human settlements throughout the world, we need to remember that we are sharing the earth with others. That's why the Y2Y initiative acknowledges the importance of safe passage for both migratory birds and mammals. On the ground he reminds, "The way to avoid species extinction is through this type of genetic connectivity. Without safe passage, highways act as a deadly barrier, cutting off North from the South, and East from West."

Locke, a lawyer, environmentalist, and vice president of conservation strategies for the WILD Foundation, is the keynote speaker today at the National Museum of Wildlife Art's new exhibit: Yellowstone to Yukon: The Journey of Wildlife and Art, in Jackson, Wyoming. Recognized as a global conservation leader, Time Canada has picked Harvey Locke as one of Canada's leaders for the 21st century. He's a hero to wildlife around the world, too.

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