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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Getting Connected

Florian Schulz takes his Freedom to Roam project into the second phase—Baja to the Beaufort Sea

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As part of his effort to document wildlife corridors, Florian Schulz has started the second phase of his Freedom to Roam project, photographing ecosystems from Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to the Beaufort Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean, and capturing some of the most remote wild places in the Alaskan Arctic. Finishing the project will take years. Schulz spent the first part of the project in the Rocky Mountain region, stretching from Yellowstone to the Yukon in Canada. In 2005, the images were compiled into a critically acclaimed book Yellowstone to Yukon: Freedom to Roam. The photographs are currently on display at Chicago’s Field Museum.
Since the publication of Yellowstone to Yukon, Schulz has traveled across the country to talk about the importance of these areas, as well as the need to establish natural corridors everywhere. And he’s not alone. Around the globe, conservationists are embarking on similar efforts. In India, wildlife experts are trying to establish corridors linking fragments of tiger habitat, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Projects are under way in Costa Rica and Australia.

Proof that these networks do help preserve animal and plant species came in 2006 when a team of scientists carved up a large swath of a South Carolina pine forest into six experimental plots. Over five years, open patches of habitat that were connected to other patches through narrow corridors grew about 20 percent more plant species in each plot than isolated patches did.

These corridors can be open swaths of land between parks, wildlife reserves or unbroken open space. They also can take the form of wildlife overpasses or underpasses that allow animals to cross over or under busy freeways. But often, these linkages get trapped in human developments, such as farms and subdivisions.

“This is true even in places like Yellowstone where it has become very difficult for grizzlies to get from one place to another because it’s surrounded by vacation homes and industrialized farming,” Schulz explains. “Ecosystems depend on interconnectedness.”

The journal Conservation Biology has identified two elements that form the foundation of meaningful conservation: the protection of large core areas and ensuring connectivity, or corridors, between protected areas. Many species exist on small habitat islands where they’re losing genetic diversity because of isolation from other populations within that same species. So establishing corridors may well determine whether or not wild creatures can adapt to change and survive.

In the face of global warming, Schulz is documenting areas that connect the last vestiges of western wilderness. Establishing linkages between parks and preserves will help ensure the survival of healthy sustainable ecosystems, which are threatened by exploitation of natural resources and the constant growth of population and development.

“I hope my work is helping to fuel this new movement of connectivity,” Schulz says. “The more people I can reach and inspire, the closer we come to reaching our goal.”

To see more of Florian Schulz’s photography and learn more about the project, visit www.visionsofthewild.com.


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