Bill would give wildlife corridors a bipartisan boost

By Michael Doyle | 06/26/2024 06:52 AM EDT

The legislation is backed by lawmakers usually at odds on natural resource issues.

A view of construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing in California.

A view of construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101 Freeway on May 13 in Agoura Hills, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Lawmakers would give a green light to wildlife migration corridors under a new bill that shows how the issue garners remarkably bipartisan support.

In a rarely seen alliance, conservative Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana and liberal Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia co-authored legislation dubbed the “Wildlife Movement Through Partnerships Act.”

The multi-faceted measure would establish an Interior Department program to assist states, tribes and regional partnerships in conserving wildlife migration routes and boost related mapping efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey, among other steps.


“Wildlife follow the path that has been bred and programmed into them over generations with no understanding of the distinctions between private and public or federal and state land,” Zinke said in a statement. “That’s why collaboration and partnerships are so important when managing migratory species such as pronghorn, big horn, and mule deer.”

While serving as Interior secretary in the first two years of the Trump administration, Zinke initiated a secretarial order likewise designed to boost wildlife migration corridors. He cast the new bill as one to “solidify the intent and purpose of the program” supporting public-private partnerships that aid migratory big game.

The legislation does not specify dollar amounts but instead authorizes “such sums as are necessary” annually up through fiscal 2030.

A companion was introduced in the Senate by Democrat Alex Padilla of California, who has long advocated for the wildlife corridors.

“As our country continues to grow both in population and development, so do interactions between wildlife and humans,” Padilla said at a Senate subcommittee hearing last year. “It also often can mean traditional wildlife corridors for migration are being cut off by human-made barriers.”

Padilla chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife and has a home-state interest in projects like the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, intended to allow mountain lions and other animals to cross over a busy 10-lane Los Angeles freeway. Groundbreaking on the $90 million project took place in April 2022, and its completion is expected early in 2025.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that there are more than 1 million wildlife-vehicle collisions every year.

A wildlife corridor is a defined pathway that provides species a safe route for connecting habitats. It can include wildlife crossings, which allow animals and humans to interact safely on roads.

“Ensuring wildlife movement is one of our most important tools to address the biodiversity crisis, especially in the face of climate change,” said Susan Holmes, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, adding that the bill is a “step forward to healing the landscape, lessening the effect of roads, fencing and habitat loss on some of our most critically endangered species.”

Congress has previously provided funding, with an infrastructure bill that passed in 2021 providing a total of $350 million for wildlife crossings pilot projects.

The legislation would, among other elements:

  • Establish a Wildlife Movement and Migration Corridor Program at the Interior Department and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to conserve, restore or enhance habitat, migration routes and connectivity.
  • Establish a State and Tribal Migration Research Program at Interior to provide funds directly to state fish and wildlife agencies and tribes for research that improves understanding of terrestrial connectivity, wildlife movement routes and migration routes.
  • Support the USGS Corridor Mapping Team to provide technical assistance to states and tribes to map priority migration routes, with a 50 percent set-aside for big game movement areas.