National parks and other protected areas are critical conservation spots for wildlife. But, they’re often too isolated to support natural migration and dispersal. That’s why the nonprofit Wildlands Network is working with coalition partners on a bold vision, known collectively as the ‘Western Wildway’. It’s a 6,000 mile-long wildlife corridor aimed at connecting 20 separate core reserves from Mexico to Alaska.
There are three core areas on the Colorado Plateau that could benefit from improved habitat connectivity and wider-ranging native species migration; the Aquarius Plateau, the Mogollon Plateau and the Grand Canyon watershed.
Roads are a major challenge in these areas. They form barriers to animal movement, as well as pose collision dangers for motorists. So, on sections of Highway 89 between Kanab and Page, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Utah Department of Transportation have been using guide fencing and modifying underpasses. That way, migratory animals, including the Kaibab-Paunsagunt mule deer, can cross safely.
Another key Wildway issue in Arizona is the Mexican gray wolf, currently designated a ‘non-essential experimental population’. The Wildlands Network wants these wolves to be re-designated as an essential species and allowed to move north from the Mogollon Plateau across Interstate 40 to the Grand Canyon area. Currently, any wolf found north of the interstate is captured and relocated, or killed by wildlife managers.
Many wildlife biologists argue that only by allowing wolves and other apex predators to roam more freely across public lands can these keystone species play their essential role in keeping wildlife in balance, restoring resiliency to ecosystems under threat from climate change, wildfires and development.