Padilla Leads Hearing on Wildlife Movement and Migration Corridors
Calls for bipartisan legislation to support conservation efforts and improve wildlife migration corridors
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, convened a hearing entitled “Challenges and Opportunities to Facilitate Wildlife Movement and Improve Migration Corridors.” Chairing his third subcommittee hearing this Congress, Padilla heard testimony from wildlife experts examining challenges and solutions to facilitating wildlife migration and movement corridors across public, Tribal, and private lands. Padilla questioned Mr. Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, Director, California Department of Fish and Wildlife; Ms. Madeleine West, Director, Center for Public Lands, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; and Mr. Richard King, Chief Game Warden, Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Padilla began his remarks by highlighting the issues that wildlife faces during migration. He noted the impacts that human-made barriers have on traditional migration wildlife corridors, especially as climate change increases migration pressures. The disruption of wildlife corridors also endangers human lives: Padilla noted that wildlife-involved crashes kill more than 150 drivers every year in America and cost between $8 million to $12 billion annually. His opening remarks also referenced the heartbreaking passing of P-22, the iconic mountain lion of Griffith Park known for wandering around the Hollywood Hills, which has spurred a movement that led to the construction of the historic Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.
To address the impacts of wildlife migration barriers on biodiversity and humanity, Padilla emphasized the importance of investing in physical infrastructure and habitat connectivity projects, along with innovative data gathering technology like GPS collars to better understand where, when, and how animals are migrating throughout the year, and where the highest risk of vehicular collisions exists. He also pushed for nature-based solutions like protecting our last remaining wilderness areas and improving landscape management of migration routes. These solutions require collaborative work across local, state, and Tribal lines to share data, advance partnerships, and improve habitat connectivity.
Padilla called for a bipartisan bill that supports voluntary conservation efforts throughout the country, including increased federal funding for state and local research and data gathering, or on-the-ground projects that restore wildlife corridors.
During his first round of questioning, Padilla asked Mr. Bonham about the bipartisan support for restoring or preserving wildlife habitat connectivity and migration corridors. Mr. Bonham discussed the breeding challenges that have threatened the mountain lion population, including P-22, in the Santa Monica Mountains, as well as the powerful movement across California to protect habitat connectivity, including through the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over 10 lanes of the 101 highway. Padilla discussed this bipartisan support further with Ms. West, who stressed that wildlife corridors are crucial for both hunted and non-hunted species, as well as the 148 million Americans who enjoy watching wildlife. He also asked Mr. King to speak to the broad support for Wyoming’s habitat connectivity efforts.
In his second round of questioning, Padilla asked Ms. West and Mr. Bonham about improvements in GPS and mapping technology, underscoring how Secretarial Order 3362 and future Congressional efforts could improve on-the-ground migration corridor projects. Ms. West discussed the drastic innovations in data collection capabilities and mapping accuracy to optimize the implementation of wildlife corridor projects, emphasizing that the U.S. Geological Survey has provided funding and technical capacity to map 66 migration routes and corridors across 11 Western States in just the past five years.
During his final round of questioning, Padilla heard from Mr. Bonham about the importance of federal and state land acquisition and the establishment of partnerships with land trusts to bolster habitat connectivity, including through the Highway 17 undercrossing on the way from San Jose to Santa Cruz.
PADILLA: Polling has shown that an overwhelming majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support restoring or preserving wildlife habitat connectivity and migration corridors. First, Director Bonham, are you seeing that level of support in California?
BONHAM: Absolutely. And the reason is pretty simple: people get it. The experience people have with our wildlife ranges, but they all intuitively connect with this idea of connectivity. And I see it in three ways, as examples. The photo that you had behind you of P-22, the mountain lion, that lion was in the middle of Los Angeles, an apex predator in one of the largest cities in the world, stuck in an island surrounded by roads. That animal could look across 10 lanes of highway and see other mountain lions, but they cannot connect. And as a result, the population that’s stranded in the Santa Monica Mountains is breeding out to extirpation. … You stand in a river, you know a salmon and a trout need connectivity. And if you’re a hunter, and you hunt big game, you know desert bighorn sheep need broad landscapes that they can move around for their survival. So whether you’re a hunter or an angler, or Hollywood celebrity, you know what freedom to roam means, and that’s why it’s, I’d say, a nonpartisan issue, in my experience in California.
PADILLA: Ms. West, based on your work and research, why do you believe there’s such strong bipartisan support for this issue? And why is it important to TRCP?
WEST: Thank you, Senator. I can sit here and say that this is the top conservation issue for hunting and fishing organizations and conservation issues broadly, right now. Because abundant wildlife populations of big game species and small game species, even like waterfowl, are important to the TRCP and our partners and the 14 million hunters in this country. But it’s more than just animals that you can hunt. Many non-hunted species benefit from high-quality habitat, healthy habitat, connected habitat indirectly, and so the work that has been done for big game is indirectly supporting other species. And that’s why so many non-hunting conservation organizations have supported this work over the years, and that’s why this work is relevant to the 148 million people who enjoy wildlife watching in this country. A new report from the Fish and Wildlife Service recently came out with numbers from 2021, and 148 million people enjoy watching wildlife in this country. So it’s an easy issue for the American public to get behind.
PADILLA: Continuing that theme and spirit of bipartisanship, I have a question. We’ve heard a bit about Secretarial Order 3362, which focused on improving migration corridors for big game species. It’s important to note that this order was issued under the Trump Administration and was continued under the Biden Administration showing the broad support for wildlife movement corridors. My question is more specifically about mapping. Ms. West, since the order was issued, how has research and mapping improved? And how have these improvements led to on-the-ground projects? And how can Congress further support these efforts?
WEST: Thank you, Senator. The timing of the signing of the Secretarial Order coincided with a massive advancement in GPS technology in general. So it really was the perfect timing to be providing funding for increased data collection and mapping work. Even 10 years ago, GPS collars would only show you where and how animals move with a little blip every 12 hours. And now you can get hourly pinpoints that just help you really see specifically how and where and why the animals are moving across the landscape and using different components of their seasonal habitat along the corridor. And, I mean, that’s just incredibly valuable information when you’re trying to figure out how to spend limited conservation dollars on the ground. You can justify the need much better with this really accurate data. And you can, I think, demonstrate a greater return on investment for the conservation funding that you have spent.
PADILLA: Mr. King, we’ve talked about the partnerships. From your experience, what kind of federal and state, for that matter, incentives might encourage private landowners to participate more in the establishment or protection of corridors?
KING: Thank you, Senator. So there are some great projects that are underway. I mentioned that our USDA partnership is one such program where we’re able to stack together different programs from the farm bill, for example, different NRCS and FSA programs. And really, anything that can incentivize and keep working lands as working lands is critically important. And so those federal programs if they can be designed in such a way, that they’re attractive to private landowners, and those private landowners can take advantage of those programs and continue to keep their working lands as working lands. That’s, I think, where we’ll see the best success.