Every year thousands of deer, elk, pronhorn, bears and wolves alike are faced with the daunting task of migrating between their seasonal stomping grounds. And every year thousands of these animals die at the expense of taxpaying motorists on the pulsing interstates that fragment their natural habitat. It is a national tragedy that is costing us millions of dollars a year and threatening the heart of the ecosystems we love to work and play in. In protest, conservationist John Davis is embarking on an epic, continental journey from Hermosillo, Mexico to Fernie, British Columbia to bring awareness to the drastic need for wildlife corridors over man-made barriers including interstate highways and the U.S.-Mexico Border. His human-powered journey, dubbed Trekwest and supported by the Wildlands Network, has the potential to catalyze enormous change and save hundreds of thousands of lives — animal and human alike. By experiencing firsthand the struggle our wildlife face every year, John will be able to create a network of individuals dedicated to supporting a network of wildlife corridors and ultimately save our natural wildlife heritage from irreparable decay.
Derek Schroeder: Can you describe what you are hoping to achieve with your TrekWest Journey?
John Davis: What I’m doing is physically exploring the proposed wildway through paddling, hiking or biking and seeing whether the habitat is intact and how animals are try to move through the landscape currently. Trekwest is important because across North America, wildlife habitat has been fragmented and wildlife movement corridors are being blocked. I’m trying with this journey to reawaken people’s awareness of this issue.
John D: You can distill down the main benefits and values of corridors in just a few points. Animals need room to roam for food, sex, to address sudden changes, and for genetic flow to keep populations robust and healthy. With this looming crisis of climate chaos many animals need to be able to move northward if they want any chance for survival. We’ve done a good job protecting islands of habitat but they are not enough. We need to restore the connection between these habitats for the full range of wildlife. We are interested in drawing in people of all ages, particularly young people, to become interested in our vision of western wildway and we think it’s a vision that can catch on. If done in the right way it would be very good for local and regional economies and it could instigate a recreational boom in things such as hiking, birdwatching, wildlife photography hunting, things like that and it would drastically reduce collisions between automobiles and wildlife.
DS: Have you made progress establishing possible corridors so far?
JD: So far the prospects for a wildway in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States are very promising but there are two very large barriers. The U.S.- Mexico border, to my mind, is ecologically very damaging—it cuts off natural wildlife corridors and it is not achieving its stated goal. It’s blocking the passage of wildlife, not people and it is a national embarrassment. Also Interstate 10 is an extremely large barrier that few animals can cross safely. We need to act fast to remedy these situations. These are not insurmountable obstacles. What we need to do is get homeland security and border patrol to get sensible about protecting our borders through ecologically benign alternatives like the one already along highway 260 that are working remarkably well. We should be doing this all over the country.
JD:I think that one of the big obstacles is political inertia — elected officials typically face budget shortages that justify neglecting various needs such as these corridors. It’s no surprise that the federal government is tightening its under the weight of a shrinking economy. But it doesn’t end there. As my friend and mentor Dave Foreman (founder of Earth First!) says, ‘support for conservation in this country is a mile wide and an inch deep’. Most people are supportive of the idea of restoring wildlife and understand the issue of ecological wildlife corridors, but very few people actually act on their beliefs.
DS: How can people join the conversation in support of these wildlife corridors?
JD: The best way you can act is to put pressure on elected officials in the department of transportation and other agencies to protect wildlife corridors. I am also encouraging folks to join me on my journey — walk a few miles with me, or paddle alongside me. If you can’t do that, we are asking people to sign on to a petition saying ‘yes’ to wildlife corridors.