Scientists warn that our planet is facing an extraordinary extinction crisis due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and climate change and we are losing species at exponential rates compared to historical patterns. The data predict that as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species could be trending towards extinction by the middle of this century. In addition to stemming the tide of development, fighting greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting core wildlife habitat strongholds, we must protect the connective corridors that allow fish, wildlife, and plants to fulfill their life history requirements.
According to researchers, unconnected core habitats are half as likely to support species movement as connected habitat networks. This translates into higher extinction risk for isolated wildlife populations. This is why conservation strategies for many imperiled species — such as Canada lynx, grizzly bear, bull trout and others — call for protecting and restoring habitat linkages to recover species viability. The problem is that wildlife corridors rarely receive the attention they deserve in land management and are therefore subject to development and degradation. For example, the Trump administration is racing to permit oil and gas drilling across the country, including within important wildlife corridors.
Newly introduced legislation by Senator Tom Udall and Representative Don Beyer would give critical wildlife movement corridors the attention they deserve. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2018 establishes a National Wildlife Corridors Program to provide for the protection and restoration of habitat connectivity for native species (including fish and plants) to support the migration and dispersal movements that they require to persist. Protecting connectivity and corridor habitat from development and fragmentation is also a fundamental strategy for climate adaptation, as wildlife seek pathways to new, climate resilient habitats.
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act harnesses the vast information on wildlife movement and connectivity to protect and restore corridor habitat on federal and non-federal lands. A National Wildlife Corridors Database will house maps of wildlife corridors and other critical wildlife connectivity information that is currently dispersed across multiple governmental and non-governmental bodies. The information contained in the database will support the identification and designation of wildlife corridors on federal public lands and allow wildlife managers to steer development projects away from important wildlife pathways.
In addition to providing a mechanism to designate wildlife corridors on federal public lands — such as national forests, national wildlife refuges, and national parks — the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act establishes regional wildlife movement councils to identify priority connectivity areas on state, private and other non-federal lands across the country. This landscape approach, which considers species connectivity needs irrespective of land ownership and jurisdiction, is essential for ensuring that wildlife have protected corridor habitat across their migratory, dispersal, and climate adaptation pathways, which don’t adhere to property lines. Importantly, the legislation encourages the regional councils to coordinate with a host of wildlife conservation and management entities, including transportation agencies to identify important wildlife crossings at roads and highways to reduce vehicle collisions and improve species movement. To ensure an effective landscape approach, the bill creates a national committee to coordinate federal and non-federal connectivity corridor conservation through development of a North American Plan for Maintaining Wildlife Movements.
We commend Senator Udall and Representative Beyer for their leadership on this critical issue and look forward to the passage, and eventual implementation, of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2018.