Wildlife Safe Corridors

Saving the lives of humans and wild animals. Imagination in Wisconsin a wildlife corridor across interstate 53 in the north woods. Herds of White-tailed deer cross over the interstate, not only safely, but the corridor allows more movement in and around human settlements. Think of all the money saved by preventing accidents between vehicles and wild animals. Watch the following film.

Sen. Udall and Rep. Beyer Revive Wildlife Corridors Bill to Make Movement Easier and Safer for Wildlife by Lindsey Botts

There are over 4 million miles ofhighways, roads, and other transportation arteries throughout the US and manyof them cut through the heart of vital habitat for endangered and threatenedspecies. While key to our mobility, they are often designed withoutconsideration for wildlife movement.

The impacts of these paved paths can be devastating for wildlife. On a basic level, isolated islands of biodiversity are formed that fragment wildlife populations, divide habitats, and degrade ecosystems. At its extreme, human development cuts off entire migration routes and blocks any chance of adapting to changing ecosystems.

Earlier this month, Sen. Tom Udall(D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced a bill that would makemovement safer and easier for wildlife. The impetus for the bill was the recentUNreport that found at least 1 million species are in danger ofextinction due to accelerated human activity.

TheWildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019, as it’sknown, would help stem the tide of declining species and habitats by connectingecosystems with over crosses, underpasses, and culverts. They would create asystem of corridors that connect and extend habitats so that animals can move overlarge areas, whether it be for daily foraging, seasonal migration, or finding amate.

“Widespread habitat destruction isleaving scores of animal and plant species both homeless and helpless. We mustact now to conserve wildlife corridors that would save species and mitigateagainst the mass extinction crisis we are rapidly hurtling toward,” said Sen.Udall in a pressrelease. “In New Mexico, our millionsof acres of public lands are home to thousands of iconic species that couldvanish if we fail to take action that enable species to survive.”

There are approximately 1 – 2 millionwildlife vehicle collisions annually. A Federal Highways Administration studyfound road mortality is one of the leading threats to at least 21 endangeredand threaten species. And according to the same study, accidents costAmericans approximately eight billion dollars a year.While the damage is mostly monetary for people, wildlife often end up squishedroadkill.

The idea for a unifying wildlife corridors framework is hardly new. Rep. Beyer sponsor a wildlife corridors bill back in 2016 and, most recently, a similar bill was sponsor by both Sen. Udall and Rep. Beyer in December 2018. Both proposals stalled in the House after being submitted to subcommittees.

Nevertheless, research on places likeBanff National Park have shown that building wildlife corridors can be a powerfultool for protecting biodiversity. Onestudy found that the installation of wildlife crossings alongstretches of the Trans-Canada Highway reduced collisions on average by 80% overa 24-year period.

Such success has spurred some states towarm up to the idea of animal crossings. The Western Governors Association and severalNew England states, along with south eastern Canadian provinces, have already draftedagreements that recognize the importance of increasing wildlife connectivity. Andat least seven states have proposed legislation that would require Fish andWildlife departments to identify, study, or install wildlife corridors. In manyof them, linking habitats would protect some of our most iconic species likebig horn sheep, pronghorn, grizzly bears, wolves, and the Florida panther.

“With roughly one in five animal andplant species in the U.S. at risk of extinction due to habitat loss andfragmentation, one of the simplest yet most effective things we can do is toprovide them ample opportunity to move across lands and waters,” said Rep.Beyer. “The U.N. report on accelerating extinctions makes it clear that thewindow for action to protect the planet’s biodiversity is closing.”

Wildlife corridors are especially usefulfor connecting national parks, which act as refuges, but are being pushed totheir limits as climates change and development erodes what habitat is left. Assuch, the once vast areas degrade, reducing their ability to sustain the myriadof species and plants that depend on them.

In practice, the bill would grant authority to key federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, and Transportation to designate wildlife corridors on federal lands. And they would work with state, tribal, and voluntary private stakeholders to identify, build, and manage the corridors on non-federal land. Regional Wildlife Movement Councils will identify and rank non-federal projects and use money from the Wildlife Grant Program to incentivize land owners willing to participate. The goal would be to connect federal and non-federal lands to create an entire system that will traverse the entire country.

Despite the bill’s support amongconservation groups and bipartisan sponsors (one republican, Vern Buchanan(R-FL), cosponsored it), it’s unclear whether it’ll pass the House,let alone a Republican lead Senate. In all likelihood, more momentum is neededacross the aisle before there’s any further movement. Yet the bill’s sponsorsremain resolute.

“The science is clear: human activityis destroying and disrupting the habitats of wildlife around the world. If wedon’t change course, entire ecosystems will be lost and entire species will bewiped out forever. It’s already happening,” said Sen. Wyden (D-OR), a cosponsor,in a statement. “The United States needs to do its part in taking bettercare of our planet and protecting the one million plant and animal species nowfacing extinction before it’s too late.”

Ecosystem Services: Think of bees that pollinate more than 90 commercial crops in the U.S….

…That’s the beauty, or bounty, that the Endangered Species Act provides. The ESA ensures these beneficial ecosystems just don’t unravel. You see the Endangered Species Act doesn’t just protect the individual species, it also protects the lands, or habitats, the endangered species need to survive. For sure protecting these habitats can make it difficult for certain industries, mainly extractive industries, such as; oil & gas, mining and lumbering. Renewable energy is out pacing coal, oil & gas extractive industries in America. It’s a well known fact that, extractive industries cause more harm for our vital ecosystems; such as land, water, air and wildlife. But there are several politicians, like Senator Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming, that supports these extractive industries and wants to rewrite the ESA to accommodate these dying-extractive-industries.

What are the economic benefits the Endangered Species Act generates from protecting vital habitats?

In the following article from Time The Endangered Species Act Is Criticized for Its Costs. But It Generates More than $1 Trillion a Year.

“Yeah, there are costs: it might slow down certain industries and help certain industries,” says Jason Shogren, an economics professor at the University of Wyoming. “We have to think about all the non-market benefits that exist for knowing these species exist, for knowing the web of life is intact, for knowing that these ecosystems aren’t going to unravel.”

Economists often describe this broad set of benefits as “ecosystem services,” and their value to the U.S. economy is enormous. Think of bees that pollinate more than 90 commercial crops in the U.S. like fruits, nuts and vegetables or birds that eat mosquitoes that would otherwise spread disease to humans.

A 2011 study prepared for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a government-affiliated conservation group, tabulated the total value of ecosystem services at about $1.6 trillion annually in the U.S. The value totaled more than $32 billion in National Wildlife Refuges protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Read more…

Critics of the Endangered Species Act often couch their concerns in terms of the damage that it does to specific industries.

Speaking at a hearing on the law in 2017, Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming went through a laundry list of economic interests he said were being harmed by the 1973 law.

“States, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders are all making it clear that the Endangered Species Act is not working today,” he said.

But as the Trump Administration prepares a set of regulatory changes that could dramatically undermine the law, some supporters are highlighting the economic benefits of protecting endangered species.

They note that the law doesn’t just protect individual species, it also protects the ecosystems that support that species. That work sustaining natural lands and the species that call them home helps ensure everything from a hospitable climate to clean drinking water.

“Yeah, there are costs: it might slow down certain industries and help certain industries,” says Jason Shogren, an economics professor at the University of Wyoming. “We have to think about all the non-market benefits that exist for knowing these species exist, for knowing the web of life is intact, for knowing that these ecosystems aren’t going to unravel.”

Economists often describe this broad set of benefits as “ecosystem services,” and their value to the U.S. economy is enormous. Think of bees that pollinate more than 90 commercial crops in the U.S. like fruits, nuts and vegetables or birds that eat mosquitoes that would otherwise spread disease to humans.

A 2011 study prepared for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a government-affiliated conservation group, tabulated the total value of ecosystem services at about $1.6 trillion annually in the U.S. The value totaled more than $32 billion in National Wildlife Refuges protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Preserving wildlife also offers a more direct benefit by supporting local tourism and improving residential land values nearby nature preserves. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation study found that land under the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers generated $34 billion in sales and supported hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The economic costs are real too, but they tend to hit specific industries rather the country at-large like many of the benefits. The law has complicated efforts by the oil and gas industry to develop millions of acres of land rich in fossil fuels. The logging industry has cited the law as a barrier to its growth. And farmers who own their land cannot develop it in many cases as they continue to face tough market conditions for other reasons.

Changes from Republicans in Washington would prioritize these industry concerns. In 118 pages of technical documents, the Department of Interior outlined a slew of changes to how the agency implements the law. The rule change would tighten standards for protecting new land, potentially allow regulators to ignore the effects of climate change on a species and, perhaps most significantly, allow for cost considerations when previously decisions were made on science alone.

Those regulatory changes join a slew of proposals under consideration in Congress where top Republicans have sought to undo parts of the 35-year-old law for years. Among other things, the proposed changes to existing law include several measures to reject endangered species status for specific animals like the sage grouse, a chicken-like bird that roams much of the west.

Tinkering with the Endangered Species Act isn’t a political winner with polls showing most Americans broadly supporting the law, along with other environmental protections. But Democrats argue that their Republican counterparts have bet that reforming the popular law are ok with that so long as they reward the interest groups that helped put the current Republicans in office in the first place.

“The Trump Administration doesn’t seem to know any other way to handle the environment than as an obstacle to industry profits,” said Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. “If a single company can make a single dollar from the destruction or displacement of an endangered species, it’s full speed ahead.”

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