Shared terrain

The footbridge was 40 feet across, barely 3 feet wide. Wooden planks spanned a fast-flowing mountain stream in Montana's Glacier National Park. Though it was mid-July, at 6,500 feet, snow still marbled the ground.

I approached the crossing from the uphill side, turning a hard right to scramble over a boulder. Before I took my first step on the bridge, coming from the downhill side and straight at me was a mountain goat - its white patchy coat highlighting a pair of horns.

I backed off, quickly and quietly. My up-close view, albeit from behind bushes, was more than enough to make this path shared terrain.

And at this elevation, on foot, there wasn't the least hesitation on my part to respect the goat's space. We could each negotiate a right of way, contrary to popular myth and every Looney Toon character ever butted by horns.

Warren Richey's article (page 14) on the construction of animal crossings beneath Alligator Alley, a highway that divides pristine habitat in the Florida Everglades, is also about shared terrain. It is an encouraging story that portrays constructive ways to counter the impact of roads on wildlife.

In the Netherlands, Australia, and elsewhere around the globe, efforts are under way to build extensive culverts as well as overpasses for animals to safely gain access across roadways.

Such actions represent a humane response to the right of way of creatures that would otherwise be walled off by highways from open space in their own habitat. It's a dialogue, if you will, from one species to another, saying in a small way, "I truly do respect your rights."

James Turner (page 16) writes about rights of a different sort. He speaks up for those who are only partially familiar with computers, and wish the hardware and software manufacturers, as the dominant species in cyberspace, would be more responsible in the way they support, "bridge," if you will, their product after they sell it.

And when it comes to privacy issues on the Internet, we all may be wishing for electronic culverts in that cyberhabitat if the deal, an entrepreneurial marketing firm, announced last week is any indication. It has the potential for cyber-road kill.

The company plans to give away 10,000 computers worth $500 each to anyone who agrees to let them monitor that individual's use of the Internet. The user also agrees to receive direct advertising based on the kinds of things businesses would love to know: an individual's age, salary, consumer and electronic purchases, and gender of family members. states up front that it's going to sell the information it gathers. It reports more than 500,000 people logged onto its Web site and e-mailed the information requested in order to get a free computer.

Privacy is a personal habitat. Unfortunately, once a cyberhighway crisscrosses that space, trespass, not shared territory, is likely.

*Write to Ideas editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail

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