For thousands of years, animals such as deer, elk and moose have migrated between seasonal habitats for survival, but our ever-expanding network of roads and highways results in millions of collisions each year between wildlife and vehicles, deadly to humans and animals. The strategic placement of bridges, tunnels, culverts, fences and other infrastructure can allow wildlife to pass safely under or over roads, connecting landscapes and improving driver safety. Several states have enacted laws in recent years to identify and protect wildlife corridors, contributing to more than 1,000 dedicated wildlife crossings in the United States today.
Five things to know about wildlife corridors
Wildlife-vehicle collisions account for a growing percentage of accidents on American roads.
It is estimated that 1 to 2 million motorists collide with large wildlife each year, causing approximately 200 human deaths, 26,000 injuries and $8 billion in property damage. In rural areas like Wyoming, 15% of all reported accidents involve wild animals.
The seasonal migration patterns of North American wildlife are critical to their survival.
Many species, such as moose, elk, deer, and pronghorn, travel the same routes from summer to winter, traveling hundreds of miles over the course of weeks or even months.
New technologies allow scientists to determine where, when and how wildlife travels.
Wildlife biologists use GPS collars to track migrations in real time and map areas where collisions occur. This technology can help states make decisions about the design and location of level crossings, as well as study their effectiveness.
States have access to federal funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
The IIJA directs the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to distribute $350 million in grants over five years to states, municipalities and tribes for projects that reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity.
The protection of wildlife corridors is a bipartisan issue.
At least 12 states have passed legislation or issued an executive order on wildlife corridors in recent years: California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
- California AB 2344, passed this summer, requires the Department of Transportation to Assess barriers to wildlife movement before starting new road projects. This builds on legislation enacted last year that clarified the application of mitigation credits to wildlife connectivity projects (SB 790). California recently opened what is billed as the world’s largest wildlife crossing, a bridge over 200 long and spanning over 10 lanes of traffic across US 101 in Los Angeles County.
- Colorado passed SB 151 this year, allocating $5 million to wildlife crossings and creating dedicated funding for such structures within the Department of Transportation. The state also unanimously passed a joint resolution in 2021 (SJR 21) calling for greater data collection on wildlife movements, a plan to improve habitat connectivity for native species, a report identifying the benefits of corridors and the creation of a working group to develop state policies. This follows a Executive Decree published in 2019. Colorado has more wildlife crossings than any state.
- Florida lawmakers unanimously passed a wildlife corridor law in 2021 (SB-976), allocating $400 million to protect nearly 18 million acres of interconnected natural areas critical to the survival of multiple species, including the endangered Florida panther.
- New Mexico has finalized its wildlife corridors action plan while also spending $2 million on railroad crossings in the 2022 legislative session. From legislation enacted in 2019 (SB 228), the plan uses ecological data and modeling to identify wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots and critical wildlife corridors with the goal of improving driver safety and maintaining habitat connectivity for six species of large mammals. The law requires state agencies to seek input from the public, tribal governments and other stakeholders to finalize the list of priority projects.
- The Wyoming legislature has spent more than $10 million on wildlife crossings this year. In 2020, the governor issued an executive order establishing a process for designating wildlife corridors, starting with mule deer and pronghorn routes. Also in 2020, the Legislature passed HB 69, authorizing voluntary donations to support wildlife conservation efforts related to the state’s transportation system.. The US Department of the Interior has indicated support for the state’s approach to wildlife corridors.
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