International Conservation Leader
Wildlife corridors are saving populations of endangered species, and Northern Arizona University’s Dr. Paul Beier is one of the world's leading experts in designing such corridors. His work has led to animal conservation successes across the globe—from California and Arizona to Bhutan and Ghana.
"Understanding how animals move across human-altered landscapes and using that knowledge to develop wildlife corridors makes it possible to keep animals abundant and healthy in our national parks and forests—our magnificent conservation investments—even as we keep building highways and cities," says Beier. "All wildlife species need corridors. Even our largest park is too small to support a population of animals that live at low density, like our top carnivores. But if corridors connect our parks and forests, the resulting land network can maintain those species. This strategy is being applied in every region of the world."
Connecting to nature
Throughout his career, Beier has dedicated himself to identifying important--and threatened—natural landscapes and finding ways to keep them connected. As governments realize the dangers of uncontrolled development, many areas of the world have implemented his designs.
"There's been a huge change in thinking about the need for corridors, especially in the last 10 years," Beier says. "Back when I was a kid, there were no interstate highways; we built all of them in my lifetime without one shred of thought about what they would do to wildlife populations. Then, suddenly, people began to realize that many populations were going extinct, and other populations were losing the genetic variation needed to adapt and thrive."
Beier's passion has attracted some excellent graduate students, including one working on a federally-funded project to understand movement and reproduction of grizzly bears, and another studying how to design corridors that will help animals adapt to climate change.
He also brings inspiration to the classroom, teaching students to use a holistic approach to study the entire ecosystem. "In one of my forest ecology labs, the students walk a gradient from relatively wild areas to increasingly urban areas and look at changes in wildlife assemblages and discuss how humans have altered them—and not all the worse," says Beier. "We actually find some animals are most common close to town."
Improving outdoor life for human beings, too, is something Beier has taken up in his free time. Through his work with Friends of the Rio de Flag and the Flagstaff Open Spaces Commission, he has promoted the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS), a network of open spaces that everyone can access.
"Our goal is that every home in Flagstaff will be within a 15 minute walk of the FUTS," says Beier. "Without having to get in a car, everybody here will have access to the trail system and be able to experience nature. The trail system does not directly help wildlife; but in the long term, when more people know and love nature, it creates a human connectivity that will ultimately conserve nature."
A global perspective
Building on those connections, Beier's work extends to global levels. He helped establish a Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana, and advised the government of Bhutan on wildlife corridors. He is also President of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), a professional organization with members around the world. This group shares conservation ideas to improve habitats for wildlife across the globe.
"At SCB, we promote science and build the human scientific expertise needed for conservation, and we lobby for good conservation policies," says Beier. "It is important to have a global scope, because the world's biodiversity is the heritage of everybody. Whether or not each person ever gets to Africa to see all that magnificent wildlife, it belongs to all of us."