As our nation’s highways get bigger and busier, wildlife habitat and populations become more fragmented, and wild animals find it increasingly difficult to safely cross roads. The wildlife-vehicle collisions that kill more than one million large mammals each year in the U.S. also cause hundreds of human fatalities and tens of thousands of injuries. To help address this dangerous problem to both wildlife and people, the nonprofit Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute, and Dr. David Theobald with Conservation Planning Technologies have published the results of the West-Wide Study to Identify Important Highway Locations for Wildlife Crossings.
The planet is experiencing unprecedented levels of land conversion and habitat loss, often in the most biologically rich ecosystems. Despite the well-known societal and economic benefits of infrastructure, indiscriminate development of roads, railways and canals increasingly threatens biodiversity. Endangered Asian elephants are regularly hit by trains; American bison are struck just outside Yellowstone National Park; and road construction opens the door to runaway deforestation, even deep in the Amazon Rainforest.
Gibbons are arboreal primates critical for maintaining the balance of their forest ecosystem. As seed dispersers, they help to regulate forest regeneration by spreading seeds throughout their habitat, maintaining forest diversity, and supporting other plant and animal species. Gibbons are well adapted to their tree-dwelling lifestyle, moving quickly and gracefully through the forest by swinging from branch to branch using their arms. So, when a gap occurs in the forest canopy, they lose their primary—and safest—mode of transportation.
Millions of collisions occur between drivers and animals on U.S. roads annually. To address this dangerous, expensive, and growing problem, Congress created a national Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program. This new grant program will prevent accidents and connect habitat by investing in measures that allow wildlife to safely cross over or under roads and fish to pass through streams beneath roads. Earlier today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the program’s first round of competitive grants—nearly $112M for research, planning, design, and construction projects that aim to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve aquatic and terrestrial habitat connectivity.
This past month was a historic one for landscape conservation and connectivity in the United States. Each week in March of this year, the Biden administration rolled out a major new initiative to conserve and restore lands, waters, and wildlife across large regions of the country. The recent slew of announcements demonstrates that our movement to think and act on conservation at the landscape level has come of age.
While roads in our communities help connect us, they can also divide us by fragmenting landscapes. But now is an exciting time to be involved in conservation and transportation ecology–or the study and reduction of impacts of roads and other linear infrastructure on wildlife and nature; there are unprecedented funding opportunities and new state and federal policies to help implement projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity. Land trusts can and do play a major role in these efforts.
More than a dozen climate, wildlife, and road ecology experts from across the country wrote a consensus statement urging government officials at all levels to consider climate change when planning and constructing structures that help fish and wildlife cross under and over highways. As the appetite increases for solutions that improve wildlife migration and movement while reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions, there is a heightened need and opportunity for designing infrastructure that is sited and designed in ways that accommodate the current and anticipated impacts of climate change.
While national parks may be the most familiar type of public lands, another type of federal sites make up roughly ten percent of the land area of the US. More than 2,400 U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites—from the Meadowood Trail System in Virginia to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California—have been set aside for a wide range of uses, including grazing, mining, and energy development, along with scientific, cultural, historical, and recreational purposes. But the BLM is also charged with conserving habitat for the wide variety of fish and wildlife that live on lands and waters managed by the agency. Now, a new BLM policy addresses the growing public concern over habitat fragmentation and the ability of species to move for their daily and seasonal needs.
It is one of the most pressing questions of our time: How do we adapt to the impacts of climate change? October 2022 marked the return of The National Adaptation Forum, which brought together climate adaptation practitioners to share ideas, evaluate opportunities, and create synergies across occupations to try to answer that urgent question. The scale of the challenges is great and because of this, practitioners from artists and municipal officials to natural resource managers came together to work towards systems-level change.
In an era where climate change, habitat loss, poaching and other human impacts put many species at risk, there is a need to understand where animals go and what they need to thrive. A new NASA-funded project—Room to Roam: Y2Y Wildlife Movements (Room2Roam)—aims to accelerate data analysis and coordination to improve wildlife management efforts across borders. The ambitious effort includes a regional network of partners in a major migration corridor of western North America.