Thursday, December 02, 2004

Animal Highway

The New York Times reports on a new wrinkle in the struggle between human development and conservation of wilderness, and it's actually hopeful and positive. A natural highway of wild, undeveloped land is emerging between the northern Rocky Mountains in the Western states, and the Canadian wilderness just over the border. This natural "interstate" is forming as a patchwork of private and government groups gradually buy up private lands, and the development rights to those tracts of land, from the owners. The shift from private to public ownership of land in states bordering Canada, like Montana, has been happening quietly, without fanfare, via dozens of local and seemingly unrelated transactions, but all these separate and local efforts have created what is becoming an unbroken corridor of wilderness along which animals can travel from one habitat to another.

This corridor is distinct from the system of national parks and state lands, because those are becomingly increasingly isolated islands of wildness in a sea of development. Like Palestinians trying to travel between two West Bank towns miles part and surrounded by Israeli settlements, wild animals in the northern Rockies often find their passage north toward Canada blocked by 21st century commercial development just outside the federal and state-owned lands. With a continuous stretch of land to travel on, their survival is enhanced .... and guess what? The economic, physical, and spiritual survival of the people, largely ranchers, who live on this land is enhanced too; because once they sell the development rights to their land, no one can take it from them or destroy the personal and family heritage created over so many years. Enlightened self-interest -- what a concept.

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