Book Review — Safe Passages: Highways, Wildlife, and Habitat Connectivity

An endangered Lion-tailed Macaque killed by a speeding vehicle
Kalyan Varma
In developing nations like India there is an urgent need for informed developmental planning that is integrated and based on conservation needs of wildlife.

Safe Passages: Highways, Wildlife, and Habitat Connectivity edited by Jon P. Beckmann, Anthony P. Clevenger, Marcel P. Huijser & Jodi A. Hilty (2010), xix + 396 pp., Island Press, Washington, DC, USA. ISBN 9781597266543 (pbk), USD 40.00; 9781597266536 (hbk), USD 70.00.

Several tropical, biodiversity rich nations are going through rapid economic growth bringing welcome benefits including infrastructure development. One of the key sectors of infrastructural growth is building of vast network of roads or road expansion projects. However these benefits also carry environmental costs including fragmentation of wildlife habitats that has a lasting impact on wildlife communities, especially wide-ranging, endangered species.

The subject of roads, particularly highways as a conservation threat has recently drawn much attention. Though road ecology is well developed in Europe (pioneers in the subject) and North America, it is still in its nascent phase in the tropics.

After the seminal book Road ecology: Science and Solutions (Forman et al. 2003), Safe Passages is another such attempt to bring focus on this subject. Divided into 17 chapters involving 34 authors the book brings a broad spectrum of contributors, some highly reputed in their fields, from road ecologists, conservation scientists, civil engineers, GIS specialists and transportation planners.

Divided into four main parts, the first section broadly outlays the problems of roads for wildlife including fragmentation effects, mortality, influence on landscapes and other negative consequences. This section of the book also describes various mitigation/crossing structures, their design, functions that could be employed for different species, taxonomic groups or to perform simple to complex ecosystem functions.

Part two of the book analyzes the policy issues related to project planning, review processes of road formation and gives insights as how conservation practitioners could involve themselves in planning and engaging with transportation planners to meet this fragmentation challenge. However some of the processes suggested may be less relevant to tropical countries where systematic documentation planning is largely non-existent, and agreed commitments by agencies may not always be honoured due to diverse goals, sometimes political. This is largely true with highway projects as they are ridden with corruption in many developing nations.

However any project that affects wildlife need to collaborate and develop mitigation strategies early in the project planning and review process. Or else they end up in needless controversies, delays in project delivery timelines, and at most times cause irreversible damages to wildlife habitats.

The next part of the book is an interesting section with success stories presented bringing optimism to the reader. A series of case studies, including The Trans Canada Highway, US Highway 93, 64, I-40, I-75 (Alligator Alley), of successful implementation of ecologically sound solutions that helped Florida panther, mule deer, black bears, cougars, elk, red wolf and a range of other species have been discussed. It describes the key players, critical factors and effective partnerships along with scientific knowledge required to achieve conservation goals. I, having worked intensely on mitigating impacts of three highways in two southern Indian tiger reserves, understand the significance of building partnerships especially if those alliances came within the Government.

The final section of the book looks at recent innovative developments and technological solutions in road ecology (these may not be viable solutions for developing nations). It also illustrates citizen’s science projects and collaborative approaches of volunteers and decision makers to promote wildlife conservation.

At times, the book gets a bit monotonous as there are too many similar examples, repeated descriptions of threats caused by highways and lacks diversity of solutions (or perhaps the solutions are not many). Some of the quantitative data given could have been better presented through tables and figures which are currently hidden within text of long paragraphs. There was scope for improvement in quality of maps, however the pictures do justice.

Despite the fact that the book is rooted with case studies only from North America, it could be a practical guide for conservation scientists and practitioners, transportation professionals or anyone interested in studying effects of highways and/or attempting to address the problem through appropriate solutions. The book successfully takes the reader from laying out the problem to feasible solutions.

In developing nations there is an urgent need for informed developmental planning that is integrated and based on conservation needs of wildlife. As such, road projects find greater public support and political patronage than wildlife concerns. This book should inform and inspire new efforts in road ecology. If it helps address wildlife concerns while planning, designing and implementing highway construction projects, the goals of this book would be worthily met with.

About the author

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Sanjay Gubbi is an award-winning conservation scientist whose work has resulted in several important successes.


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