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Promoting Wildlife-friendly Roads in Sonora, Mexico

Road ecology is a topic that is increasingly generating interest in society. Photographs and stories of wildlife crossings appear more frequently on social media and in press around the world, and legislators have presented bills in favor of these structures. This momentum was noticeable during the second Road Ecology Workshop, held on September 6 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, following the success of the first workshop in 2017 which had more than 140 participants. These workshops aim to foster change among the community of road professionals to ensure the connectivity of Sonoran ecosystems—with emphasis on the Sky Islands Region crossed by Mexico’s Highway 2.

Attendees at the most recent workshop included road engineers, architects, civil society organizations, government representatives, environmental consultants, students of ecology, biology and engineering, as well as members of Mexico’s Commission of Natural Protected Areas and of the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation who traveled from Mexico City to attend this one-of-a-kind workshop. The attendees showed enthusiasm to learn, participate and to clarify questions about wildlife crossings and the problems that affect both human and animal populations.

Although some conservationists perceive engineers as adversaries of wildlife—fragmenting habitats and affecting animal population connectivity by building or modernizing roads—we could see that many road engineers are very interested in this subject. During the presentations, engineers asked questions and to shared their experiences from different road projects, trying to absorb all the knowledge they could to use in their work.

Meanwhile, biologists and ecologists learned monitoring and mitigation techniques necessary for integrating adequate Environmental Impact Manifestations, allowing them to promote better connectivity for wildlife populations.

The main speaker, Dr. Anthony Clevenger, an expert in road ecology, gave attendees an introduction to the subject and presented detailed information on wildlife crossings by sharing his experience in Canada, Europe and Latin America.

Mirna Manteca, a conservation biologist, shared her results of roadkill monitoring on Highway 2 together with the conservation group Sky Island Alliance.

Juan Carlos Bravo, director of Wildlands Network’s Western and Mexico Programs, spoke about Mexico’s Sky Islands region and the importance of biological corridors for wide-ranging species such as the jaguar (Panthera onca), the black bear (Ursus americanus) and the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). Juan Carlos also talked about the implementation of wildlife crossings, and how their location influences the design, implementation and maintenance of each project. For this reason, there is no standardized manual for all projects. Since the topic of wildlife crossings is very new in Mexico, there are currently no examples of success or failure that would can serve as guidelines for local projects. Juan Carlos also emphasized the importance of building wildlife crossings in areas of high biodiversity before populations of species at risk are affected.

The session concluded with results from the camera-trap monitoring project in the drainages of Highway 2, carried out by Wildlands Network together with EcoGrande A. C. and Sky Island Alliance. This effort shows information about species that cross the road by using the existing drainages and bridges along it. The structures, originally designed for water passage, are already fulfilling the dual purpose by allowing wildlife to move safely so they can find food, water and mates.

The workshop was coordinated by Wildlands Network, together with the Mexican Association of Land Roads Engineering and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation, all made possible thanks to support from the Wildlife Without Borders Program of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

The success of these workshops in a small Mexican city opens up the possibility of organizing larger workshops in places like Mexico City and Guadalajara, where more people can be reached.

Without a doubt, teamwork between engineers and conservationists is key. Together we can build roads that are safer for wildlife and communities, avoiding and mitigating effects on ecosystems and ensuring connectivity that will benefit everyone.

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Translated by Victoria Arellano

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