Wildlife. It is a word that conjures images of animals living in large, untouched expanses of nature, where society’s footprint is minimal and human presence is fleeting. But the truth is, we are increasingly finding wildlife at our doorsteps – from coyotes slinking through Central Park and deer running through liquor stores in Pennsylvania, to mountain lions strolling through downtown Berkeley and bears raiding trash cans in suburban New Jersey. These are extreme examples, but they suggest a wider truth: wildlife conservation can no longer be typified by protected areas, where populations of animals are essentially roped-off and considered saved. Not only are many species of wildlife intelligent and adaptable, finding ways to survive amongst our roads and cities, but protected areas by themselves are often too small for populations of larger species to survive. It has been shown that even the largest protected areas in East Africa and North America are incapable of maintaining healthy populations of wide-ranging species. As human populations continue to expand and fragment critical habitats, the future of many species is increasingly dependent on our collective willingness – and ability – to ensure their survival within a human-dominated landscape.It is crucial, then, that we increase our understanding of wildlife behavior in sub-optimal habitats. The more we know about how animals use less pristine areas and how, ultimately, they survive, the more effective we can be at modeling and designing landscapes that benefit both humans and wildlife – something akin to ‘smart growth’ that I like to refer to as ‘smart landscapes’. We can identify where and what types of growth are appropriate in certain areas, the best placement of resource extraction, and even the most beneficial design and location of roads and road crossing structures. Providing quantitative, spatially based information to drive and influence conservation decisions at this intersection of humans and wildlife is one of the most challenging and complex fields within conservation science – and one that captures my deep and abiding interest.
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