Across the planet, habitat fragmentation and rapid climate change are destabilizing our ecosystems. Habitats disconnected by human development create impassable and dangerous barriers for animal movement and migration, cutting them off from potential sources of food, water, shelter and mates. In addition, climate change causes conditions—including extreme weather patterns temperatures, unprecedented wildfires and storms—to shift so quickly that wild creatures are unable to adapt fast enough. To survive, they need connected and protected paths to move to more suitable habitat.
We believe that formally designating and protecting wildlife corridors is paramount to combating the effects of climate change on wildlife, the human development footprint, and boosting environmental resiliency. Animals need the ability to move across all lands, regardless of ownership. That’s why, in addition to advocating for the federal Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, we have drafted model state wildlife corridor legislation in the United States, and are working with local counties and communities to ensure safe passage for wildlife across all landscapes.
Planning for Connectivity
Restoring and reconnecting landscapes requires a proactive approach; it is not part of the typical land use management laws and regulations at any level of government. That’s why Wildlands Network pursues regulatory strategies to pass new laws or amend existing ones so that land use managers have a duty to designate and preserve wildlife corridors. In our state legislation approach we envision connectivity will be planned and implemented by a number of agencies, led by each state’s department of fish and wildlife, in conjunction with state departments of transportation.
Our model legislation created by the lawyers on our policy team provides that priority conservation areas will be designated with consideration for the needs of species at risk, including animals with endangered or threatened status and unstable population size, and habitats at risk of fragmentation caused by man-made barriers, including roads, dams, culverts, and commercial and residential developments.
Our approach also anticipates the effect of climate change on threatened and endangered species and their migration corridors. Our goal is for states to create a plan to achieve 100% connectivity of identified corridors within five years.
Our policy team works to tailor legislation to each state’s needs. We work with organizations on the ground and with legislative council to ensure our model is adapted to the best possible corridor plan for the state. And our approach is working: with our guidance , New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Virginia have adopted wildlife corridor legislation. Utah has passed a wildlife corridor resolution, and similar resolutions are in the works in Colorado and Pennsylvania.
A major challenge for states is funding these new projects, particularly now. We are helping meet this challenge by assisting states with strategies to raise money. We lead a coalition of NGOs working with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in a campaign to focus attention on and help all Oregonians commit to funding conservation and recreation priority projects. In North Carolina, we are the sponsor and a leader of the Pigeon River Gorge Mitigation Fund, which will provide financial support for wildlife-centered improvements to I-40 along the 28-mile stretch of the Pigeon River Gorge, one of the deadliest barriers to wildlife movement in the Appalachian Mountains.
We are also researching new funding mechanisms to make mitigation projects—such as highway overpasses—a reality on the ground and to protect as many wildlife corridors as possible to ensure safe passage for both wildlife and humans throughout the state.
Passing state level legislation, including funding for on the ground projects, is a key piece in fulfilling our mission to reconnect, restore and rewild North America.
To learn more about our state connectivity legislation efforts, please contact Jessica Walz Schafer at email@example.com.