Colorado Senate Passes Bipartisan Legislation to Protect Wildlife Corridors

 

The Colorado Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution to protect the state’s wildlife corridors, which would conserve native species while improving road safety and bolstering Colorado’s economy.

The bipartisan resolution was introduced earlier this month by Democratic Senator Jessie Danielson and Republican Representative Perry Will. The legislation, which marks a monumental step towards preserving Colorado’s rich biodiversity and wildlife heritage for future generations, now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Corridors are natural areas that connect patches of habitat to allow native species to move freely across the landscape. Researchers suggest that migration 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 throughout the state. Additionally, a bipartisan group of legislators recently called for legislative action to address habitat fragmentation, facilitate wildlife movement, and conserve ecological connectivity.

“Without ecological corridors to connect important habitat, our protected areas become isolated ‘islands’ that are unable to sustain wildlife populations,” says Hailey Hawkins of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Colorado’s iconic wildlife—including moose, elk, deer, and pronghorn, as well as non-game species such as lynx and cutthroat trout—depend on intact seasonal habitats and the migratory routes that connect them.”

Senate Joint Resolution 21-021 encourages state agencies to collect additional wildlife movement data and create a plan for improving habitat connectivity for native species. The legislation also recommends establishing a working group to develop state policies to protect wildlife corridors and calls for a report identifying the benefits of wildlife corridors.

“Healthy and resilient wildlife populations, as well as connected natural landscapes, are the foundation of what makes Colorado so special,” says Michael Dax of Wildlands Network. “The same landscapes and species that contribute to the quality of life for Coloradans also draw visitors here who contribute greatly to state and local economies.”

Safeguarding wildlife corridors means protecting Colorado’s biodiversity and unparalleled 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 provides $9.4 billion annually in local and state tax revenue.

An additional economic benefit of habitat connectivity is that it decreases costly conflicts between vehicles and wildlife. Where wildlife corridors intersect with roads, wildlife crossing structures can provide safe passage. Senate Joint Resolution 21-021 encourages the Colorado Department and Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Transportation to expand efforts to study 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. “Building overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and fencing dramatically reduces the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions, which saves lives and costs associated with these preventable, devastating accidents.”

In 2016, the Colorado Department of Transportation reported almost 4,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions, which resulted in nearly 400 human injuries and, tragically, multiple deaths. Wildlife crossing structures can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 90%, as was the case with the Highway 9 project between Silverthorne and Kremmling.

Ultimately, Senate Joint Resolution 21-021 kick-starts a collaborative process for state lawmakers and agencies to work with stakeholders to implement and expand existing policies and develop new ones to improve habitat connectivity for native species in Colorado.

Filed Under: AgricultureEnvironmentFeaturedMedia ReleasePublic SafetyRecreationTourismTransportation

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