Instant expert

Instant expert: Wildife Corridors

Clearing the facts on a greener pathway.

instant-expert-habitat-frag

Habitat fragmentation is when natural or man-made barriers in the natural landscape prevent connectivity between regions.

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What are wildlife corridors and why do we need them?

Take a plane across rural Australia and you’ll see it is like a patchwork quilt of farms, highways, roads and dams. Only the occasional strips of refuges for native wildlife, such as national parks, remain. In 2001, a government assessment found that the majority of Australia’s landscape is disjointed, with less than 30 per cent of Australia having any native plants. To prevent inbreeding, animals (and to a certain extent plants) need to move between areas that present very different barriers to the natural landscape – but due to human development there’s limited connectivity. That’s where wildlife corridors come in; they help avoid what’s known as ‘habitat fragmentation’, making sure there’s genetic diversity of individual species as well as overall biodiversity. National parks, nature tails, roadsides and stock routes have been proven as important in increasing connectivity, however any area linking two previously isolated refuges could be considered a corridor.

Gerard O’Neill, CEO of Bush Heritage Australia says that it’s important for a “broadscale, unified approach that reflects how plants and animals really exist in the natural environment”. Patrick Dodson, leading Aboriginal thinker says that “our vision and understanding of our unique heritage provides opportunities to do good for our physical environment and for our reconnection if we have lost it”.

Where are corridors located in Australia?

There are three main large-scale corridors in Australia; the Gondwana Link in south-west Western Australia, Victoria has the Habitat 141 corridor (referring to the longitudinal degree that the corridor runs along), and the Alps to Atherton in NSW. Currently, the largest and most ambitious project is the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative that covers Queensland, NSW, ACT and Victoria, but in keeping with one of the election promises, the Gillard government plans to develop a $10 million National Wildlife Corridors Plan, with specific details currently being considered by Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Why is there some opposition to them?

There is no ‘silver bullet’ for conservation, and corridors are just one of many useful wildlife management options. Globally, evidence is limited that corridors actually provide connectivity for wildlife because it is difficult and time-intensive to collect data and assess the effectiveness of individual corridors. Sceptics have suggested there’s no point setting up corridors if they’re not maintained properly or if they affect adjacent landowners. Some also suggest there’s dangers associated with them, such as encouraging the transferal of diseases or creating problems for traffic on nearby roads . Conservationists reply that therefore location and compatible land uses are crucial to good design. “Some of the opposition comes from a resourcing perspective,” says O’Neill. “For example, extensive revegetation is resource-intensive and costly, and some argue that protecting the remaining vegetation should be the priority in terms of resourcing, protection and funding.”

What the movers and shakers think

Bob Debus, Chair of the National Wildlife Corridors Plan Advisory Group
“There is a growing realisation that we have got to make sure that there is habitat for wildlife across the whole landscape. My own interest in corridors comes from a belief that in the long term we will need to join the entire community in the effort to maintain the environment.”

Prof Patrick Dodson, Aboriginal Yawuru man from Broome
“The concept of wildlife corridors, with their linking of the cultural and environmental values of our Island nation has potential to be in complete symmetry with the ancient songlines of the Aboriginal peoples who have nurtured and sustained the lands and waters of Australia for millennia guided by the laws and ceremonies of our creation.”

Gerard O’Neill, CEO, The Australian Bush Heritage Fund
“Wildlife corridors provide a real, sustainable opportunity to reconnect heavily fragmented landscapes and provide a pathway for vulnerable wildlife to survive – and doing so in a way that represents how that landscape functioned before clearing and introduced species occurred. The connectivity provided through wildlife corridors also provides tangible conservation outcomes and long-term solutions for the survival of native wildlife.”