Big-picture look at habitat connectivity needs could give local land managers more tools; measure seen as critical to helping wildlife survive global warming
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — If federal lawmakers can be convinced to look at the country’s wildlife in a big-picture perspective, local land managers and conservation biologists may soon have some powerful new tools to help preserve critical connections between important habitat areas.
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, introduced in Congress last week, would create a national wildlife corridors information program within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a national picture about essential wildlife movement areas and to distribute that information among various state and federal agencies.
The law would also establish a stewardship fund to provide grants aimed at protection movement corridors, and would require key federal agencies, including the federal Departments of Agriculture, Interior, and Transportation to consider the preservation of these movement areas in their management plans.
The measure has key backing from the national association of wildlife agencies, which represents state wildlife and fish and game departments. A top official with The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies said the new law could help address looming landscape-level impacts from climate change.
“It is vitally important that we identify and maintain habitat connectivity and migration corridors for fish and wildlife in response to the effects of climate change and other landscape level impacts. This bill will facilitate meaningful cooperative endeavors to this end between states, federal agencies, tribes, industry, and private landowners,” said Gary Taylor, legislative director for the association.
The measure was introduced by Democratic U.S. Representatives Rush Holt and Jared Polis. it builds on the wildlife habitat and corridors provisions of the House climate bill that has already passed and now appears stalled on its way to the U.S. Senate.
“Smart growth is a popular concept these days, not just on Earth Day, and we need to make decisions about growth with the best information and forethought available.” Polis said. Cutting off movement corridors can have serious consequences for wildlife, including genetic isolation that can make animal populations more susceptible to catastrophic disease, and over-populations of species in some areas.
This legislation will ensure that our scientific knowledge of wildlife is central to federal planning and provide local communities with the tools they need to maintain healthy ecosystems and public safety,” Polis said.
“Wildlife corridors are vital to maintaining healthy wildlife populations, which are part of what provide Coloradans with their outstanding mountain landscapes and quality of life,” said Paige Bonaker, staff biologist at Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems. “Corridors are also vital to preserving wildlife in a warming world. In Colorado, they will be especially important for our native wildlife most threatened by climate change, like lynx.”
In Colorado, hundreds of wildlife corridors provide essential connections among core areas of habitat for species ranging from elk and mule deer to bears and lynx. The importance of a preserving habitat connectivity throughout the Rocky Mountains was underscored recently by a 1,200-mile journey made by a radio-collared lynx from Colorado to Canada.
The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are funding research to identify important wildlife corridors that cross Interstate 70 through the Rocky Mountains and investigate ways to reduce animal-vehicle collisions along the roadway. As part of this project, dozens of citizen scientists will be monitoring wildlife activity at key crossing locations on I-70 this summer. The Colorado Division of Wildlife is also participating in a project to identify wildlife corridors as part of its comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy.
“Wildlife corridors connect natural areas and allow animals to move, migrate, and adapt in a warmer, more crowded world,” says Jeffrey Parrish, Executive Director of the Freedom to Roam Coalition, which represents a broad group of businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. “Corridors also connect people to the outdoors, and ensure that all our citizens can hunt and fish, watch wildlife, and recreate while still developing our nation’s economy and addressing our energy challenges sustainably.”
Filed under: Environment, forests, public lands, wildlife Tagged: | Congress, Environment, global warming, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, wildlife, wildlife biology, wildlife conservation, wildlife movement corridors