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Interstate highways as wildlife habitat

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  June 17, 2013 12:11 PM

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Interstate highways are where nature goes to die. This is true literally, in the case of roadkill, and it's true spiritually, too: Is there a less serene place in the world than the concrete desolation of I-95? Yet an article earlier this month in Yale Environment 360 reports that at a time of shrinking habitat, highway median strips might just be the wildlife home of the future.

Over the last decade, journalist Richard Conniff writes, an international movement has been growing to transform the land around roads into attractive places for animals to live. Techniques including planting wildflowers to support floundering honeybee populations, keeping grass long to provide homes for ground-nesting birds, and turning stormwater runoff ponds into amphibian habitats.

Highway embankments are not the first place most animals would choose to call home, but wildlife in many parts of the world are running out of options. As the article explains, agriculture and urbanization are claiming more and more land, leading Rebecca Kauten, manager of the integrated roadside vegetation management program at the University of Northern Iowa, to call roadsides “the last refuge, the last vestige of hope” for many species.

It’s a strange marriage in every respect: animals don’t have much experience living alongside big rigs, and state departments of transportation haven’t traditionally been at the vanguard of conservation. But the grass is green next to highways, and increasingly there is no other side.

For more on roadside ecology, see Roads of the Future, which ran in Ideas in 2011.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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