Published in PewTrust.org, September 16, 2019.
States Aim to Boost Safe Passage for Wildlife While Improving Motorist Safety
Collisions with migrating big game prompt leaders to look for science-based solutions.
Big-game animals in the American West today are increasingly squeezed by growing suburban areas, energy development, climate change, and an expanding road network—factors that are threatening the landscape connections that wildlife need to move to and from their seasonal feeding and breeding grounds. Sportsmen, biologists, scientists, and local communities are warning that unless policymakers identify and conserve migration corridors, certain wildlife will be at serious risk. And the public is listening. A recent poll by the National Wildlife Federation found that “more than 84% of respondents in Colorado and New Mexico said they would like to see increased efforts to safeguard wildlife corridors.”
Science and technology are providing important insights into how wildlife moves across Western landscapes, and state policymakers are beginning to act on this information in ways that will help conserve critical wildlife migrations and improve motorist safety on America’s increasingly busy roads and highways. The federal government plays a big role in managing wildlife habitat on public lands and funds many transportation projects through the Highway Trust Fund, but states have management responsibility over wildlife and most highways. To conserve wildlife corridors while reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions in the West, state and local governments need to take the lead on these issues and guide their agencies to effectively link science with policy.
Fortunately, this is beginning to happen. From Montana to New Mexico, states are identifying hot spots where collisions occur and linking those areas with the larger habitat conservation needs on either side of the road.
Some state wildlife and transportation agencies are changing their polices to make migration safer for ungulates and other wildlife. For instance, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved a policy in 2017 that directs the state’s Game and Fish Department to designate crucial big-game migration corridors and draft assessments that look at threats such as energy development and transportation infrastructure while also making management recommendations to conserve those areas. The Montana Transportation Department and Department of Fish and Wildlife and Parks hosted a public summit that resulted in the two agencies working with non-governmental organizations to identify and conserve migration areas and develop a plan for adapting highway infrastructure to enable safe passage for both wildlife and drivers.
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