WSU Whatcom County Extension

Stewardship is Where You Are

Hidden Highways

The Big Picture

In the Northwest we are surrounded by hills, mountains, streams and forests. Many animals live in these wild spaces. As the human population grows and we need more space, we end up using space that may be needed by wildlife.

Imagine your family lived on an island and needed to cross a bridge every time you had to go to town to buy food. If there was a huge earthquake and the bridge collapsed what would you do? Would you move to somewhere where there were not earthquakes? Would you start using a boat to go to the store? Would you start storing emergency food? Would you fight for the remaining food on your island? Would you be able to survive?

As human population increases in an area, it is important to recognize that the wildlife in an area still need “safe passage” to move and adapt as well. Animals need food, shelter and space just like humans do. They also need safe corridors to move successfully in their habitat. When animals have to cross a busy city street that is not safe for the animals or humans. When wildlife corridors disappear the result can be a strain on the entire ecosystem. Let’s investigate your yard, and the natural areas near your home, to see what kinds of wildlife can coexist alongside you.

Explorer - Skill Level: One Engager - Skill Level: Two Citizen Scientist - Skill Level: Three


Corridors used by wildlife.

Activity: Hidden Highways

Objective:  Use web based mapping tools and investigation to discover  and assist in repairing potential breaks in wildlife corridors,  “hidden highways.”
Science Skills: Using technology, making inferences, establishing a hypothesis, conducting a restoration experiment
Life Skills:  communicating,   partnering with other organizations
Preparation Activities:
Review Safety precautions regarding wildlife

What You Will Need
Activity 1:  Map Search
Download Google Earth
Enter your zip code then try to zoom in until you can find where you live
Zoom out and examine the area where you are.

Does your neighborhood have opportunities for wildlife to move undetected?
Which kinds of animals are best suited for movement in your area? Which ones would be at a disadvantage?

Moving from a national forest or park boundary towards where you live, where do you identify the earliest interruptions in opportunities for wildlife to move freely?
Visit areas that might be interruptions in animal corridors and look for evidence of wildlife approaching the edges. (Consider doing a few prolonged observation periods.)


Activity 2: Everybody’s Watching!
If the thought of patiently pursing the tracks of elusive animals is too much for the youthful and energetic members of your group, they may respond positively to gathering data on species sightings for one of several collective on-line databases such as the UW Nature Mapping program or the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Watch.

Each program has their own parameters for wildlife reporting so check with the individual sites.


Activity 3: Assist in Corridor and Habitat Restoration
Contact one of the organizations listed in  “It’s All Connected” to find out more about your area and other areas in your area that are have a high priority for habitat conservation, and what you can do to help!

Restorations on public and private lands may be regulated, and working through these organizations will help make sure your project is a success.


Activity 4: Improving your Backyard Habitat

If after several months you are not seeing much evidence of wildlife passing your area, you may want to do a habitat evaluation and consider engaging youth in a few projects that would make the area more hospitable and welcoming to various wildlife.


Additional Resources:
4-H Wildlife Habitat Evaluation Program (pdf)
US Fish and Wildlife Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide (pdf)





Natural Resource Stewards


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Explore More

WDFW Backyard Sanctuaries

NWF Backyard Habitats

Bird Source

City of Bellingham

Department of Fish and Wildlife (Whatcom)

Local Wildlife Areas

UW Nature Mapping


It's All Connected

Kodak American Greenways Award

Rea Edwards, City of Bellingham Parks Volunteer Coordinator

Richard Kessler, WDFW
(360) 739-3404

“If the environment changes, plants and animals must either move or adapt to the new conditions, or they will die. For example, in winter, some ducks and songbirds migrate (move), rabbits, frogs and many turtles adapt, and insects and weak animals may not survive. If an organism can survive, grow and reproduce under certain environmental conditions, we say that it has adapted to that environment. Adaptations are the special characteristics or features that increase an organism’s chance for survival and reproduction in that particular environment. So when the environment changes, organisms must change with it. If they don’t, they have to move, or they will die.”

Exploring Your Environment,
Eco-Actions Activity Guide,
National 4-H


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WSU Whatcom County Extension, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite 201, Bellingham, WA 98225, (360) 778-5800, Contact Us