No magic borders
Two to three hours
• Map of your region showing parks and other public lands
• Piece of tag-board
• Photographs or articles about the effects of pollution on wildlife (optional)
• A long piece of string or twine
• Plastic or paper cut-out shapes of animals and plants
• Four chalkboard erasers full of chalk
• Two large pleated paper fans
Governments all over the world have protected natural areas of particular value or beauty.
Various regulations determine what is allowed and what is prohibited in these areas. Yet, for a
number of reasons, regulations may not be enough to protect wild areas and the resources within them.
For example, neither exotic plants entering our communities nor polluted air from industrial areas observe borders.
An arbitrary line on a map will not keep wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, or birds from leaving a protected area in
search of food or force wildlife to follow a traditional migration pattern.
- Explain the terms:
- borders, and
- Understand the purposes and limitations of political
boundaries and borders; and
- Identify some of the causes and effects of pollution.
- Asking Geographic Questions
- Acquiring Geographic Information
- Organizing Geographic Information
- Answering Geographic Questions
- Analyzing Geographic Information
Begin by discussing with your students what they know
about pollution. What is pollution? What causes it? What
is the effect of pollution on flora and fauna (for example,
acid rain kills trees and may render lakes lifeless)?
What kinds of pollution are problems in your area (for
example, exhaust from cars and trucks, industrial smoke,
dust and runoff from agriculture, soil erosion from construction)?
Ask them if they know of measures people take to protect
wildlife and plants from pollution. Write their responses
on the board or overhead. Then ask them if they think
wildlife can be protected from pollution by establishing
protective borders and boundaries. Why or why not? Explain
that neither pollution nor wildlife observes boundaries.
Boundaries are social constructs created by humans and
drawn on maps. Culturally and politically we need them,
but biologically we need to treat them as if they aren't
there. (Use the plight of the trans-boundary North American
grizzly bear to explain this concept. Tell the students
that in the United States, grizzlies are protected by
the Endangered Species Act. In Canada, the far-roaming
carnivores have no such legal protection. British Columbia
has been undergoing a debate recently about the number
of grizzlies in the province and if hunting should be
allowed. Bears do not recognize the boundary between
the two countries and can wander in and out of protected
environments.) Continue by explaining that, just as the
grizzly bear wanders without regard for country boundaries,
pollution knows no political boundaries either
Ask students to identify forms of pollution that can
infiltrate protected areas (noise, water, and air pollution;
pesticides; weeds and predatory animals). How do these
pollutants get there? What are some possible effects
on animals and plants (growth abnormalities, reduced
Explain to students that they will be simulating how
pollution knows no boundaries. Have the students look
at a map of your region and choose a park or 'protected' public
space. Have students note any boundaries around the area.
Ask one student to write the name of the park or parcel
of land on a piece of tag-board and stand, holding the
sign, in the middle of the room. Encircle an area around
the student with the string. Place plastic or paper shapes
of animals and plants within the 'park.' Have two students,
each with two chalky erasers, stand outside the boundaries.
These are pollution sources. Designate two more students
to play the role of wind and give them the fans. Have
them stand so that the pollution lies between them and
the boundary. When everyone is ready, have the students
with fans wave them vigorously while the students with
the erasers create pollution by clapping the erasers
Did the boundary protect the plants and animals from
pollution? What other forms of pollution can pass into
protected areas? In what other ways, in addition to wind,
do pollutants move from place to place?
Discuss specific pollution-related threats to animal
populations. This could include oil spills, dumping of
chemicals and garbage, pesticides, and jet engine fumes.
Ask students what actions they can take to reduce their
own polluting, such as carpooling, riding bikes, taking
the bus, conserving water and electricity, or using environmentally
Suggested Student Assessment
Have students design another simulation about the spread
of pollution to perform for students in other classes
or for parents. The simulation should show how noise,
water, or air pollution spreads without regard for man-made
or natural boundaries. Have them write the main points
of their lesson on poster board to show their audiences.
Extending the Lesson
Lead a discussion about what can happen when animals
wander out of protected areas. For example, wolves may
kill livestock, and bison can carry diseases that are
dangerous to cattle.
If your classroom has a guinea pig or gerbil, release
it into the ‘protected’ area you created earlier with
string, to demonstrate how animals observe no borders.
Identify exotic species that exist in your community
and discuss the ways in which these species probably
got there (for example, by wind; seeds or spores tracked
in on shoes or tires; attached to ships.
No magic borders (Adobe PDF document)