PEQUEA, Pa. (WHTM) — Friday, May 21, is Endangered Species Day. Often, the steps taken to protect endangered species can have benefits for common ones, as well. One example of this is wildlife corridors, or connected tracts of land that provide important habitats for wildlife.
“A wildlife corridor is basically a pretty large expanse of land that allows wildlife to move from one place to another,” says Keith Williams, community engagement coordinator at the Lancaster Conservancy. “Think of it as a wildlife trail.”
In Lancaster County, organizations like the Lancaster Conservancy and power companies, as well as the state of Pennsylvania, work to preserve and protect natural lands. At the Conservancy, “We’re acquiring as much land as we possibly can and setting it aside, but we’re doing it in a very scientific way,” Williams says.
One of the criteria the Conservancy looks at when selecting sites to preserve is how close the locations are to other protected areas. Protecting habitats that are close to one another enables the creation of wildlife corridors.
These corridors help make ecosystems more resilient, providing places for organisms to move to if conditions change in their current homes. “That’s becoming critically important now, as we see the effects of climate change starting to affect our local regions,” notes Williams.
Williams offers an example using the meadow at House Rock Nature Preserve: if that meadow gets too hot for the organisms living there, they can relocate to the nearby Reed Run Nature Preserve. Even though Reed Run is just over the hill from House Rock, the weather conditions of the two sites are different. Each preserve has its own microclimate.
If the species at House Rock couldn’t relocate, “they’d wind up dying, or at least suffering,” says Williams.
Wildlife corridors help protect all kinds of species including fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and plants. All those species require certain conditions to thrive, and they can relocate to find suitable habitats as conditions change…assuming those habitats exist nearby.
“As we develop more and more land, and we make these little habitat islands that aren’t connected, those wildlife species have less of an opportunity to find those right conditions that they need to survive,” says Williams.
By facilitating more resilient ecosystems, wildlife corridors help to protect endangered and threatened species, but they also help ensure that more common species stay common.
“The time to protect an organism, a species, is when they’re abundant, when they’re common, not waiting until they become threatened and endangered,” says Williams. “When we protect the habitat of an endangered organism, everything that goes along with that is also protected.”
While larger organizations like the Lancaster Conservancy are able to protect larger areas of land, individuals can play a role in creating wildlife corridors, too. Planting native species, like milkweed — even if the plants are just in a pot on an apartment balcony — can help provide critical habitats and food sources for wildlife.
The Lancaster Conservancy’s Community Wildlife Habitat initiative offers a way for individuals to get involved in building wildlife corridors. Through the program, property owners and organizations work with Conservancy volunteers to develop Certified Wildlife Habitats, which provide food, water, cover, and places to raise young for local wildlife.
With more than 500 certified sites, Lancaster County has been designated a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat, and it’s the first county in Pennsylvania to earn this designation, says Williams.
“We can’t protect enough habitat by ourselves,” Williams says. “This really depends on individual citizens to do whatever they can with whatever piece of land they happen to manage and steward at the time.”