Wildlife corridors do exactly what they imply, they provide safe passage for animals. Devices like these became increasingly important as pristine wilderness succumbed to development or urbanization. Without them animal populations became isolated even if protected within parks. This impacted genetic diversity and the overall health of local species. Further problems occurred when animals tried to travel from one safe space to another. They trampled over farmers’ fields or suburban backyards. They died crossing busy roadways. The National Wildlife Federation estimated, for example, "on U.S. highways, a vehicle hits an animal at least every 26 seconds."
A wildlife corridor can correct those issues. Solutions exists at various levels, from vast regional or even transnational fixes, all the way down to the hyper-local. Twelve Mile Circle decided to focus on a few examples from around the globe.
Indian elephants represented the largest population of three distinct subspecies of Asian elephants. However the population dropped drastically during the 20th Century. The last century began with about a hundred thousands animals. Yet it ended with maybe a quarter of that. Habitat loss, human pressures and population fragmentation further limited Indian elephants to perhaps 15% of their historical range. This made corridors vital to their survival.
If you look at a map depicting the distribution of the elephant today, you will see a shattered kingdom, a vastly reduced range broken into fragments, a few drops of colour splashed accidentally on a worn out South Asian fabric. This is the tragedy facing the Asian elephant today – existence in isolation.
The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI)’s National Elephant Corridor Project identified natural migration paths. The Siju-Rewak Corridor in the Garo Hills offered one case study. It fell within the state of Meghalaya, in the far northeastern corner of India where it bordered Bangladesh. Here the Someshwari (or Simsang) River cut through the Garo Hills, creating a rocky ravine too steep for elephants to cross except in four places. The Trust worked with local communities to set-aside necessary land at choke points so elephants could pass undisturbed. This connected a string of protected properties; Balpharkam National Park, Siju Wildlife Sanctuary, Rewak Reserve Forest and Nokrek National Park (map).
A similar situation existed in eastern Africa. Kenya dealt with multiple dimensions to the problem. Wildlife on the plains required lots of room to roam. Tourism brought a huge economic benefit that depended on healthy, sustainable animals. Nobody would come for a safari experience if there weren’t any marquis species like giraffes, lions, zebras and elephants. Yet the people who lived there also needed land for their survival. Animals got pushed onto parks. The need for corridors became imperative.
As an example, the African Wildlife Federation created the Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor. It connected Amboseli National Park, Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West National Park (map). The Federation also used monetary incentives. Local landowners earned payments "for every acre set aside for conservation and safeguarded against poaching, subdivision, and other activities that could degrade habitat."
The Brazilian Atlantic Forest is one of the most biodiverse forests in the world. 70% of Brazil’s population now lives in the area that was once the Atlantic Forest. Only 7% of the forest remains and in Pontal do Paranapanema that number is down to 3%.
Efforts to create wildlife corridors sprang up in various parts of the nation. In support, non-profit groups such as the World Land Trust purchased acreage that they then donated for conservation purposes. Other groups such as WeForest investigated where animals migrated using GPS collars, then focus on creating corridors along those natural routes. One corridor connected Morro do Diabo State Park (map) and the Iguaçu National Park.
Not everything needed to take place on such a gigantic scale. Effective local solutions also existed in many places, for example, in the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. There on its southern edge sat Larch Sanctuary and the Whitemud Nature Reserve.
Nestled in the middle of Edmonton lies Larch Sanctuary, a section of the Whitemud creek ravine just upstream of its confluence with Blackmud creek. This 58 acre reserve is on the south side of 23rd Avenue, with housing developments at the top of the banks on either side, so it truly is a sanctuary. Despite being right inside a major city, Larch Sanctuary retains remarkable biodiversity.
This was the "only continuously-wooded, relatively-undeveloped stretch of land running through the City," It also contained Edmonton’s only ox bow lake, a topic of particular interest to 12MC. However animals needed a way to get to and from this protected space. They risked being hit on a busy divided highway, Anthony Henday Drive. Thus, the solution centered on constructing a specially constructed underpass (satellite view). Then animals could cross freely.
Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.
The rain that began the previous afternoon continued all night. It lifted, however, just as we began the first full day of our adventure. I probably would have headed to Pittsburgh’s two famous funiculars, the Duquesne Incline and the Monongahela Incline had I been alone. However I had my older son with me so I made a concession. He loved zoos and I wanted him to enjoy the trip too.
Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium
I can take-or-leave zoos although I admitted that the one in Pittsburgh was better than many we’ve seen. We arrived just as the gates opened at 9:00 am, the very first people admitted for the day. We toured the grounds mostly by ourselves that first hour. Many of the animals got their first meal right around opening so we managed to see most of them awake and active. The zoo also featured an aquarium, one of the few in the nation including both attractions in the same park. Naturally we saw every single exhibit in excruciating detail. I never complained as I kept up my best Good Dad behavior. I knew I’d bore him later with some of my geo-geek sites. We finally ran out of animals after about four hours.
My son felt happy to add another zoo map to his growing collection.
Onward to the Panhandle
Now I could focus on the real meat of the adventure, heading towards West Virginia’s northern panhandle to capture some new counties. I’d planned a short, simple drive for the day since I knew the zoo visit would consume a big chunk of it. First we hit Brooke County as we entered West Virginia on US Route 22. Then the highway took a slight northern jog near downtown Weirton, just nicking Hancock County before crossing back into Brooke and shooting across the Ohio River into Jefferson County, Ohio. I snagged three new counties in about five minutes. My elapsed time in Hancock lasted less than thirty seconds. It still counted!
I’ve been thinking about reader Brad Keller’s comment on my recent Northern Panhandle of West Virginia article. He said he’d heard that Weirton (map) might be the "the only city in the US that touched both the Eastern and Western border of their state." Reader January First-of-May offered Juneau, Alaska as another possibility, an option that I also considered. The Cairo, Illinois suggestion, however, hadn’t come to my mind and I thought it might be legitimate. I also thought of Laughlin, Nevada (map) bordering on California and Arizona. If I wanted to cheat I might also suggest the city of Washington in the District of Columbia. The boundaries were made coterminous in 1871, so by definition Washington touched all of the District’s borders.
We remained on the Ohio side of the river on Route 7 — part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway — until to just outside of Wheeling. We crossed back into West Virginia, choosing to drive over the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge (map) rather than using the standard Interstate Highway crossing. It was the largest suspension bridge in the world when constructed in 1849. Obviously the original designers didn’t envision vehicles heavier than horse-drawn wagons when they built it. That meant tight traffic controls in modern times: no trucks, buses or trailers. Cars needed to maintain 50 foot intervals. Traffic lights at either end restricted the number of cars on each pass. We crossed without any trouble in our little sedan.
The day went so well that we had time stop at West Virginia Independence Hall (map), a place that I mentioned previously. This time I could use one of my own photos in the article. Visitors guided themselves through the building although the docent offered a suggestion: start in the basement, take the elevator to the third floor and work back down to the first. That sounded fine so we started in the basement with an introductory video recounting how West Virginia became a state in 1863. I knew the story already so I spent more time paying attention to the actors than the events portrayed. The video must have been filmed in the late 1970’s because the hairy, bearded men all looked like the Bee Gees circa Saturday Night Fever. The women all sported poofy manes of that same era. The production values reminded me of a vintage episode of Little House on the Prairie. What was it about again?
The rest of the tour unfolded much more routinely. The third floor recreated the original courtroom where leaders of the day discussed their break from Virginia. The second floor contained an exhibit of various Civil War battle flags, and the first floor held all of their permanent exhibits. The restoration faithfully replicated every detail. Despite its historical significance, the building was allowed to fall into total disrepair in the Twentieth Century. It became a decayed hulk by the 1960’s. The restoration took decades, finally completed only a few years ago.