Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act (WCCA) of 2019, if passed, will create a system of national wildlife corridors and crossings on public lands. The goals are to boost animal biodiversity, protect ecosystems and help safeguard species from extinction. This legislation directs federal land agencies to collaborate with each other – along with states, tribes, local governments and private landowners, to designate wildlife corridors, and increase habitat restoration.
Reconnecting habitats with their native animal populations increases “gene flow,” an essential ingredient of biodiversity. Without different population biodiversity (inbreeding), there will be an eventual collapse of their population. For example, seventy-five percent of migration routes for elk, bison and pronghorn have already been lost in the Greater Yellowstone area due to human development.
Wildlife corridors also decrease vehicle collisions. Each year there are 1 to 2 million wildlife-vehicle collisions. This number includes amphibians, larger mammals, along with 21 federally endangered or threatened species: Florida panthers, desert tortoises and Hawaiian geese among them.
The most contentious section of the WCCA is a science- and data-driven system of designation for land that would prevent activities like oil drilling and mining.
Pre-dating the WCCA is the country’s first designated wildlife corridor: in 2008, upper part of the Path of the Pronghorn migration route was designated by the National Forest Service. The WCCA builds upon this achievement. The WCCA has already been endorsed by 222 wildlife protection organizations. More than 40 sportsmen’s groups signed a letter to congress asking for a competitive grant program with at least $50 million annually directed toward the planning, design, and construction of wildlife crossing projects. Related, in the 2020 Highway Bill, the hunting and fishing community is asking for a dedicated funding source for the construction of wildlife crossings in areas that are heavily used by animals.
At the state level, twelve states have already passed legislation or created conservation programs to establish wildlife corridors. For example, in 2012, the Wyoming Department of Transportation built a wildlife overpass for pronghorn elk. And then again in 2017, Wyoming started a two-phase, $100 million project to reconstruct a section of U.S. Highway 89, just south of Jackson. Part of the project, 17 years in the making, is to build six underpasses for wildlife, two fish passages, and numerous culverts for smaller animals.
America built an entire interstate system and other superhighways without considering the needs of wildlife. A recent United Nations report found that roughly 1 million species worldwide are threatened with extinction underscoring the need for constructing additional wildlife crossings. As many of the drivers of species extinction are man-made, the solutions will be as well.
Then there is the economic factor. According to the Western Transportation Institute, deer collisions run about $8,000, elk an average of $25,000, and moose upward of $44,000 when factoring in things like human injury and vehicle repair.
A Secretarial Order on migration corridors and big game winter ranges was signed in February 2018, by then-Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. This provided the spark to State Wildlife Agencies, DOI, and NGOs to start working closer together to understand the migration corridors of mule deer, elk, and pronghorns. Based upon this Order and support by sportsmen groups and other special interests, bipartisan endorsement is expected. The results of corridors in Canada are often cited as precedent. From 1996 to 2014, six wildlife overpasses and 38 underpasses were built along the border of Banff and Yoho national parks. Subsequent studies showed that the designated crossings reduced animal-vehicle crashes by 80 percent.
Status: on January 29, 2020, the WCCA passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee markup, taking it one step closer to a vote on the House floor.
- https://www.nwf.org/ their mission is to increase America’s fish and wildlife populations and enhance their capacity to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
- https://rewilding.org/ their mission is to develop and promote the ideas and strategies to advance continental-scale conservation in North America.
- https://protecttheharvest.com/ their mission is to create to defend and preserve American freedoms and to support farmers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, and animal owners.
- https://wildlandsnetwork.org/ they have a mission of reconnecting, restoring and rewilding North America so that life—in all its diversity—can thrive.