Comstock Publishing Associates

Darryl Jones explores the ecological impact of roads

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We asked Darryl Jones about the field of road ecology and reflections on his new book A Clouded Leopard in the Middle of the Road. Drawing on over ten years of active engagement in the field of road ecology, Darryl Jones sheds light on the challenges roads pose to wildlife— and the solutions taken to address them.

1. In both A Clouded Leopard and your previous book, The Birds at My Table, you choose to adopt a more narrative and conversational tone. Why did you opt for that, rather than a more formal voice?

The choice of the highly informal writing style was deliberate and comes from a critical approach to a career-long practice of popular science writing. My primary objective has always been finding better ways of effective communication. A lot of discussion following my recent books made me much more conscious of the language used. Here I am writing for an audience who may almost certainly completely unaware of this topic and need as much assistance as possible to get across often complex ideas. The field of road ecology is very technical, populated by engineers, ecologists, or planners who are often not aware of the community and how best to get their messages across. I hope I have managed to bring a new, reader-friendly way into that unfamiliar world.

2. For both of your books, you chose what could be considered more niche topics in the broader field of animal conservation. What led you to these topics?

I’ve always appreciated the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to the many complex problems we face. This has naturally led me to the peripheries and transition zones of established fields, mixing with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines. These are places not well understood or accessible to those outside the specializations yet are of enormous significance to conservation and sustainability. I was one of the first active urban ecologists in my country and have become used to being regarded as being a bit “fringe.” Yet these topics have turned out to be vital to contemporary conservation efforts.

3. What do you hope readers will gain from reading A Clouded Leopard?

If there is one take-away from reading this book it is that there is genuine hope. The environmental messages from across the world are so relentlessly negative at present that people do need to see that positive and affective action is happening. I certainly do not shy away from the perilous state of things but my mission here is to demonstrate how, around the world, extraordinary partnerships have led to amazing outcomes for people and biodiversity.

4. What is one thing you think the average person can do in their everyday life to help their environment, particularly the animals within that environment?

Possibly the most important outcome of my work – and a major incentive for me to write this book – was the discovery that determined local groups of ordinary people can make a profound difference. But to make achievements requires dedication and compromise. The story of the I-90 highway east of Seattle is a spectacular success story that looked like an intractable conflict when it began. After a catastrophic start, a little respect and an ability to see things from another angle has led to one of America’s best wildlife crossings structures. This example showed me that all positive actions are local, but that together they can make a global difference.

5. Where do you think you’ll take your research next?

I am trying to understand more about the many ways that people interact with and perceive the nature around them. We are all inescapably part of nature and had best get used to that. My current project is looking at the wild creatures we share our cities with and why some examples have been so unexpectedly successful.

*Featured photo: Asphalt road cuts through hilly terrain (Courtesy of Milada Vigerova)

Darryl Jones is Professor of Urban Ecology and Deputy Director of the Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University. Follow him on Twitter @MagpiejonesD.

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