E&E News: Wildlife corridors show bipartisan appeal at Senate hearing
By Michael Doyle
Wildlife corridors attracted bipartisan praise and myriad suggestions for federal support in a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
Public funding and private cooperation can both be crucial, lawmakers and state wildlife officials agreed.
“As our country continues to grow both in population and development, so do interactions between wildlife and humans,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). “It also often can mean traditional wildlife corridors for migration are being cut off by human-made barriers.”
Padilla added that “we pay an enormous bill for failure to provide adequate crossings,” with the Federal Highway Administration estimating that there are more than 1 million wildlife-vehicle collisions every year.
Padilla chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife and convened the afternoon hearing that had a generally upbeat tone.
“This is a fixable problem, underscore fixable,” said Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The data speaks for itself. You do a corridor project … [and] the collision rates drop dramatically, by 80 to 90 percent.”
A wildlife corridor is a defined pathway that provides species a safe route for connecting habitats. It can include wildlife crossings, which allow animals and humans to interact safely on roads.
Congress has already kicked in some serious funding, with an infrastructure bill that passed in 2021 providing a total of $350 million for wildlife crossings pilot projects. The funding started at $60 million for fiscal 2022 and rises to $80 million in fiscal 2026.
Last year, using several funding sources, California broke ground on the $90 million Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which will allow mountain lions and other animals to cross over a busy 10-lane Los Angeles freeway traveled by an estimated 300,000 humans daily.
Bonham cited other helpful initiatives, as well, including California’s own efforts to inventory the state’s corridor problems and a program of market incentives, where developers or local transportation agencies may get a mitigation credit when they include a corridor in their development.
Rick King, chief game warden of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, likewise stressed the virtue of “voluntary, incentive-based programs, with built-in flexibility and agility” to meet individual challenges.
‘I’m proud of the Wyoming model, which relies on collaboration rather than coercion to benefit our state’s big game species,” said Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming. “We must continue to recognize the leadership role played by states while also respecting the rights of private landowners.”
In 2020, Wyoming Republican Gov. Mark Gordon enacted a wildlife habitat and migration corridor executive order that subsequently won praise from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The executive order mandates that state agencies “exercise their legal and regulatory authorities to protect the movement of mule deer and antelope between seasonal ranges in their respective migration corridors.”
The Trump administration’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in a similar vein, issued Secretarial Order 3362 that directed collaboration among the Bureau of Land Management, states and private landowners on migration corridors. Some Republicans, though, have also sounded alarms about wildlife corridors’ potential impact on private property.
“Whether you’re a hunter and angler, or a Hollywood celebrity, you know what freedom to roam means, and that’s why I’d say this is a nonpartisan issue, in my experience in California,” Bonham said.
Madeleine West, director of the Center for Public Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, added that “this is the top conservation issue for hunting and fishing organizations and conservation [groups] right now.”
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