NPCA submitted the following position to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and PUblic Works ahead of a hearing scheduled for November 14, 2023.
National parks, and the larger ecosystems on which they depend, are home to some of America’s most iconic plant, fish and wildlife species and provide core habitats for a variety of migratory species. Whether it’s migrating to seasonal habitats or adapting to climate change, park species need the ability to move across landscapes to maintain healthy populations. Americans understand this need. In fact, a recent poll conducted by The Harris Poll, on behalf of NPCA, found that 87% of Americans support restoring or preserving wildlife habitat connectivity and migration corridors. Communities, states, federal land managers, and tribes around the country are working to ensure this happens.
For two decades, the National Park Service has studied mountain lions in and around Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, helping researchers understand how the animals use the landscape and informing future opportunities to protect their habitat, which is largely fragmented by urban development. The state of California is taking steps to address this fragmentation, most notably building a wildlife crossing over U.S. 101 to better connect populations of mountain lions and other wildlife, increasing their genetic diversity and resilience. It will also reduce the chances of dangerous wildlife-vehicle collisions, one of the major causes of death for numerous species.
Each year, pronghorn migrate 150 miles between Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin and Grand Teton National Park. Faced with roads, fences and homes along their historic route, the pronghorn’s migration was becoming increasingly fragmented. Luckily, the state of Wyoming joined with federal land managers to create “The Path of the Pronghorn,” the first nationally protected wildlife corridor. This recognition and collaboration allow both state and federal land managers to make smart decisions while still advancing local development and infrastructure.
Facilitating improved on-the-ground collaboration to encourage habitat connectivity efforts across the country may be the strongest tool for protecting park wildlife for the long term. NPCA supports new policy, science and funding which will help ensure wildlife can continue to migrate, move and thrive in the face of increasing threats to their populations. Recent years have seen significant investment at the federal, state, Tribal and local levels to facilitate wildlife movement and improve habitat connectivity. However, there is more work to be done to ensure migration and movement are priorities in federal land manager decision-making, state and tribal management of wildlife, federal dollars to support private landowners, and more.
Protection of wildlife corridors is a conservation goal with bipartisan support around the country. In the last decade, the Western Governors’ Association and the New England Governors and Canadian Premiers both adopted wildlife corridor protection measures. In 2018, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3362, which would improve “habitat quality in Western big-game winter range and migration corridors.” In 2021, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which established a pilot grant program to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. And in 2023, the Council on Environmental Quality released guidance on ecological connectivity and wildlife corridors to establish “a policy for Federal agencies to promote greater connectivity across terrestrial, marine, and freshwater habitats.”
All of these actions create an environment where on-the-ground decisions can allow wildlife to thrive. However, many of these efforts are not permanently enshrined in law. We encourage members of the committee to consider the testimony presented in this hearing and take steps to develop legislation that will provide policy guidance for collaboration, prioritize new science and research, and provide opportunities for funding at all levels. Only by working together, across the lines we’ve drawn on maps, will we be able to facilitate wildlife movement and improve migration protection and restoration for species of all shapes and sizes.
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Legislative Director, Government Affairs