By Lia Cheek
Colorado’s General Assembly passed a bipartisan resolution on Friday to protect the state’s wildlife corridors. The measure would help conserve native species while improving road safety and strengthening Colorado’s economy.
The bipartisan resolution was introduced in May by Democratic Senator Jessie Danielson and Republican Representative Perry Will. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously and passed the House with all but four of the 60 representatives in support. The recently passed resolution marks a monumental step toward preserving Colorado’s rich biodiversity and wildlife heritage for future generations, and is now before the House of Representatives for a vote.
Corridors are natural areas that connect habitat patches to allow native species to move freely through the landscape. Researchers suggest that migratory routes are critical to the survival of many of Colorado’s beloved native species. For this reason, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order in 2019 to protect big game migration corridors statewide. Additionally, a bipartisan group of lawmakers recently called for legislative action to address habitat fragmentation, facilitate wildlife movement and maintain ecological connectivity.
“Without ecological corridors to connect important habitats, our protected areas become isolated ‘islands’ unable to support wild animal populations,” says Hailey Hawkins of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Colorado’s iconic wildlife, including moose, elk, deer and American antelope, as well as non-game species such as lynx and cutthroat trout, depend on intact seasonal habitats and migration routes. that connect them. ”
Joint Senate Resolution 21-021 encourages state agencies to collect additional data on wildlife movements and create a plan to improve habitat connectivity for native species. The legislation also recommends the creation of a task force to develop national policies to protect wildlife corridors and calls for a report identifying the benefits of wildlife corridors.
“Healthy and resilient wildlife populations, along with connected natural landscapes, are the basis of what makes Colorado so special,” says Michael Dax of Wildlands Network. “The same landscapes and species that contribute to the quality of life of the Coloradans also attract visitors here who greatly contribute to national and local economies.”
Saving wildlife corridors means protecting Colorado’s biodiversity and unprecedented outdoor recreation opportunities. According to a 2017 analysis commissioned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the state’s outdoor recreation industry employs more than 511,000 Coloradans and generates $ 9.4 billion annually in local and state tax revenue.
An additional economic benefit of habitat connectivity is that it reduces costly conflicts between vehicles and wildlife. Where wildlife corridors cross roads, wildlife crossing structures can provide safe passage. Joint Senate Resolution 21-021 encourages the Colorado Department and Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Transportation to step up their efforts to investigate wildlife-vehicle conflicts and potential crossings.
“Wildlife crossing structures protect wildlife corridors and improve safety by keeping large animals like elk and deer off highways,” says Anna Wearn of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. “The construction of overpasses, underpasses, culverts and fences dramatically reduces the number of collisions between wildlife and vehicles, saving lives and costs associated with these preventable and devastating accidents. “
In 2016, the Colorado Department of Transportation reported nearly 4,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions, which resulted in nearly 400 human injuries and, tragically, multiple deaths. Wildlife crossing structures can reduce collisions between wildlife and vehicles by up to 90%, as was the case with the Route 9 project between Silverthorne and Kremmling.
Ultimately, Joint Senate Resolution 21-021 kicks off a collaborative process for legislators and state agencies to work with stakeholders to implement and expand existing policies and develop new ones to improve connectivity. of habitats in Colorado.
Lia Cheek is Field Campaign Director, Endangered Species Coalition