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.
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 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.
Center staff have now returned from their adventures in Montreal, attending the UN Biodiversity Conference. Ecological connectivity—the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth—was an exciting topic of negotiations and discussions during what is officially referred to as the 15th Conference of the Parties (CoP-15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In the final days of the conference, the governments of 196 countries adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework on 18 December 2022. This milestone agreement will now serve as the strategic plan for implementation of the Convention over the period 2022-2030. To date, this is the most significant agreement for bolstering global cooperation to conserve and restore nature.