Hope for biodiversity, even in dark times
“The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide the most important step of any single piece of legislation at the present time in enlarging the nations protected areas and thereby saving large swaths of America’s wildlife and other fauna and flora, especially in this critical time of climate change and shifting locations of the original environments in which a large part of biodiversity has existed.” — Dr. E.O. Wilson
A year ago this week, Wildlands Network joined Dr. E.O. Wilson in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Half-Earth Day. Dr. Wilson had recently published the book Half-Earth, Our Planet’s Fight for Life, where he argues that if we can preserve 50% of the planet, we can save 85% of the world’s biodiversity. It is a daunting task, but one that is achievable and provides us with a hopeful vision of the future where wild animals and humans coexist.
Dr. Wilson had come in part to talk about the role wildlife corridors could play in protecting Half-Earth and specifically the importance of a bill that is set to be introduced in Congress in the next few weeks, The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. I had arranged to have Dr. Wilson speak with the bill’s lead sponsors, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) on stage at the U.S. Capitol Auditorium. We had invited congressional staff and the public to attend, but I was nervous about how many would come. The room seats 450 people. What if we only got 50 or 100?
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried. The room was packed, and it was clear then, as it today, that both Congress and the public are hungry for positive, proactive solutions to protecting biodiversity on a scale designed to tackle this immense problem.
Why Wildlife Corridors Legislation Now?
From our daily newsfeed to our emails, we are assaulted with bleak conservation news. We know that perhaps 50% of the world’s wildlife has been lost since 1973. Despite this, science-based proposals that give us hope for the future such as Half-Earth and the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act are inspiring politicians and the public alike.
Perhaps that is why we have seen growing bi-partisan support for wildlife corridor policies around the country. In 2007, the Western Governors Association approved an initiative to protect wildlife corridors, and in 2016, the Eastern Governors and Canadian Premiers approved a resolution to protect wildlife corridors.
In the last few years, red and purple states such as Wyoming, New Mexico and New Hampshire have all passed wildlife corridor protection bills. This year, even the Trump Administration got in on the act, with an secretarial order signed by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to improve “habitat quality in Western big-game migration corridors in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.”
How the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act Works
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act reflects the science and vision of Wildlands Network to restore and rewild America. The bill would channel unprecedented resources to wildlife corridor protection. Some highlights include:
- It will create a system of federally designated wildlife corridors across the United States to protect biodiversity—from pronghorns and mule deer to monarch butterflies, grizzly bears, and salmon.
- It will create more resilient landscapes across America in the face of climate change.
- The bill will mitigate harm to wildlife and support public safety where wildlife corridors cross roads.
- It will establish a widely shared national scientific database to prioritize corridor development.
- The Act will provide funding and incentives for wildlife corridor protection on private, state and tribal lands.
- Finally, it will encourage collaboration among agencies, states, tribes, and other stakeholders to protect wildlife corridors.
Which Species Would Benefit from Corridors?
Today, America has only one federally designated wildlife corridor, the Path of the Pronghorn. This wildlife corridor is vital for the protection of the pronghorns‘ seasonal 150-mile migration.
Yet, many more species could benefit from wildlife corridor protection. Florida panthers need corridors for dispersal and to find mates. Because these panthers have such a large home range, corridors help to provide enough space by linking protected areas together and can help reduce human conflict by offering an alternate route around cities and towns. In 2016, the first female Florida panther was recorded north of the Caloosahatchie River.
The North Atlantic right whale could also benefit from protected corridors. The whales migrate every year from their winter calving grounds off of the coast of Florida and the Carolinas to feeding grounds near Maine and Eastern Canada. Shipping traffic and fishing gear present constant hazards to this critically endangered marine mammal.
In the Lower 48, grizzly bear populations remain isolated in 5-6 distinct groups. Connecting these populations with wildlife corridors would allow for genetic diversity and stabilize and grow their numbers.
Even small insects like monarch butterflies need protected corridors to migrate up to 3,000 miles in search of warmer climates in Mexico because they can’t withstand freezing temperatures. It can take 3-4 generations to complete a full migration, and without places along the flyway for them to rest and reproduce, we would lose this iconic species.
A Broad Coalition of Support
We are immensely lucky to have 3 of the most knowledgeable and passionate conservation leaders sponsoring the Wildlife Corridor Conservation Act. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) has been on the forefront of conservation issues such as Arctic protection and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) first introduced the bill in 2016 and has been a tireless advocate for wildlife and endangered species; he’s also hiked almost the entire Appalachian Trail! We hope that this year Rep. Beyer will be joined by Republican Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) as a lead sponsor. Rep. Graves sits with Rep. Beyer on the important Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives.
The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act also has the support of leading conservation scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Reed Noss, and Michael Soulé, as well as over 65 conservation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Endangered Species Coalition, and Defenders of Wildlife. Recreation groups like the Northwest Sportfishing Association and land trusts like the Open Space Institute also support the bill.
We expect the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act will be introduced in the House and the Senate sometime after the elections, hopefully with bi-partisan support. But that is only the beginning. With a new Congress in 2019, Sen. Udall and Rep. Beyer would like to reintroduce the bill with broad bi-partisan endorsement. We will be mounting a national grassroots campaign to support that effort and to educate members of Congress about the importance of protecting wildlife corridors.
We Need Your Help
This historic effort will only succeed with support from folks like you! We hope you will help us as we raise awareness about the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act now and in 2019.
- Thank our Congressional champions Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), and Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA). Contact them at 202-224-3121 or https://bit.ly/2OvYlo6.
- Support state wildlife corridor bills or ask your local representatives to introduce a wildlife corridor bill. Contact Wildlands Network at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Ask your Representatives and Senators to support the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.