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Would reverse the tide of habitat destruction and help protect native fish, wildlife, and plant species from decline

Legislation follows sweeping new UN report warning that one million plant and animal species are facing extinction because of human activity 

WASHINGTON – Today, ahead of Endangered Species Day on May 17, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced the bipartisan Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 to begin reversing the tide of habitat loss and fragmentation for America’s fish, wildlife, and plant species – a major factor in species decline and extinction. The legislation would give authority to key federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands in order to create a comprehensive corridor network that would boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and help safeguard America’s most iconic species from a mass extinction crisis.

A sweeping new United Nation report found that one million plant and animal species are facing extinction – and that habitat destruction caused by human activity is a key threat. By connecting similar pieces of land into stretches of habitat to allow migration, wildlife corridors can reverse the process of habitat loss and fragmentation, protecting migration routes and safeguarding species from the devastating impacts ofa changing climate and habitat loss due to development.

“Scientists are raising the alarm that we are almost out of time to save the planet as we know it. Widespread habitat destruction is leaving scores of animal and plant species both homeless and helpless. We must act now to conserve wildlife corridors that would save species and mitigate against the mass extinction crisis we are rapidly hurtling toward,” said Udall. “Globally, one million species are at risk of extinction – many within decades — as a result of factors like habitat destruction and climate change. In New Mexico, our millions of acres of public lands are home to thousands of iconic species — from the desert bighorn to Gila trout — that could vanish if we fail to take action that enable species to survive. These species are critical to our rich natural inheritance, and our economic success. And finally, these treasured species are part of an essential legacy to pass on to our children and future generations to come.  We should move on common sense strategies like wildlife corridors now, before it’s too late.” 

“With roughly one in five animal and plant species in the U.S. at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation, one of the simplest yet most effective things we can do is to provide them ample opportunity to move across lands and waters,” said Beyer. “The U.N. report on accelerating extinctions makes it clear that the window for action to protect the planet’s biodiversity is closing. We badly need to pass the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.”

The legislation is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). In the House, it is co-sponsored by Representative Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.).

“Scientists and experts have sent us a warning, loud and clear: we must take bold action to safeguard the vitality and biodiversity of our planet in order to further our fight against the climate crisis. I’m proud to join my colleagues in this legislation to utilize our nation’s public lands to protect our nation’s wildlife,” said Harris.

“The science is clear: human activity is destroying and disrupting the habitats of wildlife around the world. If we don’t change course, entire ecosystems will be lost and entire species will be wiped out forever. It’s already happening,” said Wyden. “The United States needs to do its part in taking better care of our planet and protecting the one million plant and animal species now facing extinction before it’s too late.”

“I’m proud to champion these common sense measures to help preserve natural habitats and save threatened species from extinction. This bipartisan legislation sends a clear message to the global community: The United States of America respects our natural wildlife and is committed to protecting vulnerable animals and their ecosystems,” said Blumenthal.

“Protecting wildlife and promoting biodiversity are of critical importance in light of a new study warning that one million species are facing extinction,” said Buchanan. “It’s time for Congress to help restore threatened wildlife populations and safeguard our nation’s lands and waters. We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

"The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would provide the most important step of any single piece of legislation at the present time in enlarging the nation’s protected areas and thereby saving large swaths of America’s wildlife and other fauna and flora, especially in this critical time of climate change and shifting locations of the original environments in which a large part of biodiversity has existed,” renowned biologist E.O. Wilson said of the bill, which he has urged members of Congress to support.

Wildlife corridors have been implemented in some U.S. states and throughout the world and research shows that they ultimately reduce the risk of extinction for many species -- but current law lacks requirements and incentives for federal land and water managers to address habitat connectivity needs. This legislation offers funding and sets up a framework to manage a national system of corridors, improving interagency coordination, and enhancing data collection and information sharing across jurisdictions to improve land management decisions throughout the United States.  

While the Trump administration’s Department of Interior (DOI) has awarded some recent funding to support wildlife corridors, many of its other policies are further jeopardizing them. A recent Center for American Progress analysis found that nearly one-quarter of the more than 4,500 oil and gas leases offered by the Trump administration since January 2017 in the West are within a wildlife corridor or state wildlife priority area for big game. The proportion of leases that conflict with known wildlife areas has been the highest in New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming. 

The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019 ensures native wildlife, including fish, animals, and plans, can continue to migrate, adapt, and thrive in the face of increasing threats to the populations and habits by:

  • Granting authority to key federal agencies to designate National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands, which would support the resilience and adaptability of native fish, wildlife, and plant species on public lands
  • These corridors would mitigate harm to wildlife and threats to public safety by implementing strategies to reduce public and wildlife conflict
  • Establishing a Wildlife Movement Grant Program to fund conservation efforts and improvement projects on state and Tribal lands, and those of voluntary private landowners, in order to encourage natural wildlife movement
  • Establishing Regional Wildlife Movement Councils composed of state agencies, voluntary private landowners, Tribes, and other stakeholders to identify priority areas on non-federal lands to protect essential resources and maintain biological movements, which would be funded by the grant program 
  • Establishing a National Coordination Committee to develop a national plan for wildlife movement, recommend guidelines and fund priority projects for the Wildlife Movement Grant Program, and improve coordination between National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands and conservation and conservation plans of states, tribes, and voluntary landowners identified by the Regional Wildlife Movement Councils.
  • Establishing the Wildlife Corridors Stewardship and Protection Fund composed of donations that will financially assist the management and protection of National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands
  • Creating a collaboratively developed Wildlife Connectivity Database to inform wildlife connectivity decisions across the United States using evidence-based approaches.
  • Establishing a Tribal Wildlife Corridor initiative to encourage Tribes to utilize and expand wildlife corridors on Tribal lands

The legislation has earned support from a wide range of leaders from the scientific community and outdoor recreation industry, along with a broad coalition of conservation organizations, including the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Wildlands Network.

The full text of the bill is available HERE. A summary of the legislation can be found HERE.

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