Highways as the Last Hope for Some Wildlife
Posted by Richard Conniff on September 27, 2013
Everywhere in the world people are moving to cities and suburbs, covering the landscape in houses, highways, office developments, and strip malls. Just in the lifetimes of today’s 20-somethings, urban coverage in the lower 48 states will more than triple–from 2.5 percent to 8.1 percent of the landscape by 2050. In some Northeastern states, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the land will be more than 60 percent urban by mid-century, up from about 35 percent now.
So where will plants and animals fit in this crowded world? Nowhere at all, unless planners figure out how to make a place for them. It may be a mark of desperate times, but many conservationists are now looking to the sides of highways as the only place left for some species to live.
The United States has four million miles of highways, most of them with substantial unpaved medians and margins. Planting grass is the standard treatment, partly because that’s how the guys in the highway department have always done it, and partly because political patronage at the county level drives the investment in machinery and gasoline. But a few states now take a greener approach.
In Iowa, for instance, the wall-to-wall planting of corn means hardly any of the original prairie habitat has survived. So that state has become a leader at … to read the rest of this story, click here.