Randall Williams

March 31, 2020

Wildlife Professionals Thank Colorado Governor for Leading on Migration Corridors

Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource experts want to see continued support and success on this conservation issue

In a letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis, 12 wildlife and natural resources professionals thanked the governor for issuing a 2019 executive order to conserve Colorado’s big game winter range and migration corridors and urged the state to continue its efforts on this critical issue.

These professionals—each with between 30 to nearly 50 years of experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to request that decision-makers in Colorado build upon the Governor’s executive order, emphasizing the need for long-term funding and a holistic view of migration corridor and habitat conservation.

“As a longtime wildlife professional and Colorado resident, I appreciated Governor Polis enacting his executive order on big game winter range and migration corridors,” said John Ellenberger, a 43-year veteran wildlife biologist and TRCP Ambassador. “This policy has brought much-needed attention to these vital habitats and will benefit state agency coordination and cooperation for conserving wildlife in our state.”

The order, issued in August of last year, provides particular focus on safe wildlife passage and wildlife-vehicle collisions. While the professionals agreed with this emphasis, they noted that “wildlife migration and corridor conservation transcend well beyond wildlife-vehicle collisions and crossing structures.” The letter went on to urge that decision-makers and the public remember that wildlife corridors may not necessarily intersect highways and roads, and that effective wildlife crossings may not always occur along established migration corridors.

Migration corridors and associated habitats used during seasonal movements–often called “stopover habitat”–are part of an animal and herd’s overall home-range. Each piece of this complex habitat puzzle is vital for species to exist in continually changing landscapes.

“Animal movements and use of habitat is complex and no single habitat can be managed in isolation, ignored, or forgotten during land use planning,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We need to take a holistic approach when managing habitat and corridors for any species of wildlife.”

Polis’ executive order directs the Department of Natural Resources to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to incorporate information on big game migration corridors into their relevant public education materials. “The public often does not distinguish between seasonal habitats used by wildlife, so–to that end–education, outreach and stakeholder engagement identified by the order will be fundamental to maintaining long-term support for this initiative,” said Arnett.

The letter also points out that “human perturbations such as energy development, subdivisions, commercial development, and dispersed human recreation are known to disrupt wildlife migrations and habitat use and may have long-lasting impacts.” The experts believe potential conflicts should be anticipated when wildlife migrations interface with all forms of energy development and other disturbances that disrupt or block animal movements.

“Although data are still being collected in Colorado and across the West, existing evidence clearly demonstrates that development can impact migratory movements and habitat use,” said Dr. Len Carpenter, a veteran big game ecologist with more than 40 years of experience in wildlife research and management. “If Colorado’s big game herds are to be sustained, we must ensure that critical habitats and migratory movement and functionality are maintained.”

The letter concluded by emphasizing that “the state and federal departments and agencies, industry and private landowners all must have long-term, institutionalized support for corridor conservation.” The experts encouraged the state “to pursue all avenues to secure long-term durability of policy and funding for big game winter range and migration corridor conservation that will transcend multiple Administrations at both the state and federal levels.”

“The future of big game populations in Colorado must not be taken for granted,” says Ron Velarde, retired Northwest Regional Manager for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and resident of Grand Junction with 47 years’ experience in wildlife management. “We have a real opportunity through current state and federal policies to ensure Coloradans can always enjoy health populations of mule deer, elk and other wildlife that are key economic drivers of our outdoor economy.”

Read the letter from 12 wildlife experts here.

 

Photo: Larry Lamsa via Flickr

3 Responses to “Wildlife Professionals Thank Colorado Governor for Leading on Migration Corridors”

  1. Mick Tracy

    Yes this is very important for wildlife to be able to migrate back and forth from winter range to summer range. Elevating highways in these crucial spots would allow them to have safe passage. Also stopping growth of housing developments in these corridors is also key. One example. The city of Jackson Hole, WY. If this city wasn’t in the way of the Elk migrating to Farson, Wyoming area. They wouldn’t have to feed them at the feed grounds. As the state of Colorado is growing in leaps and bounds this is something to think of also. Colorado’s Elk heard brings in a lot of revenue. Maintaining this herd at it’s current population would be in the best interest. For the businesses that benefit from hunting. Such as grocery stores, sporting good stores, motels, restaurants, and many more. Along with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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Randall Williams

March 10, 2020

Wildlife Professionals Urge New Mexico Governor to Continue Leading on Migration Corridors

Former wildlife agency leaders, scientists, and other natural resource experts line out the requirements for successful policy on this conservation challenge 

In a letter to New Mexico Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham, 14 wildlife and natural resources professionals thanked the governor for the state’s leadership on the issue of migration corridor conservation and urged the state to continue its efforts on this critical issue.

These professionals—each with between 20 to 50 years of experience in wildlife and natural resources management, research, and conservation—came together to request that decision-makers in New Mexico build upon the bipartisan support demonstrated by the passage of the Wildlife Corridors Act in 2019, the first-of-its-kind legislation in the country. They emphasized the need for adequate funding and a long-term, holistic view of migration corridor and habitat conservation if the state hoped to succeed in its efforts.

“As a longtime wildlife professional and New Mexico resident, I appreciated Governor Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature passing the Wildlife Corridors Act,” said Dr. Bill Dunn, a 40-year veteran wildlife biologist and environmental consultant. “This bill is the first of its kind in America and should benefit conservation of migration corridors vital to our wildlife populations.”

In recent years, big game migration has become a priority for conservationists. “We’ve long known the importance of migration to and from seasonal habitats, but new technology has made the importance of these habitats for mule deer, pronghorn and other animals even clearer,” said Dr. Ed Arnett, chief scientist for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The letter asks that funding for migration corridor conservation extend beyond coordination and planning for transportation-related issues such as wildlife-vehicle collisions and crossing structures. Currently, the state has only set aside funding under the Corridors Act for such
projects. “It is important,” the signers noted, “for policy- and decision-makers and the public to remember that wildlife corridors may not necessarily intersect highways and roads.”

The breadth of the issue will require the state to utilize funds other than those set aside specifically for game protection, noted the letter, and it “encourage[d] New Mexico legislators to work closely with NMDGF and the New Mexico State Game Commission to ensure adequate funding is made available to support implementation…while maintaining funding for other agency priorities.”

Another challenge highlighted by the letter is coordinating the management of the full suite of habitats required by big game animals as they move across the landscape, including summer and winter range, migration corridors, and stopover habitats. To do this effectively, the state will need to conduct extensive research that could take years to complete. In the meantime, the letter urged state agencies to “develop interim guidance and recommendations while data are being gathered to ensure appropriate management and protection of potentially unmapped corridors.”

Additionally, the letter encouraged the BLM to work proactively with the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game to ensure that energy development on public lands does not disrupt wildlife migrations, as research has shown the impacts to be significant and long-lasting.

“Even though data are still being collected in New Mexico, the weight of existing evidence is clear that development does impact migratory movements and habitat use,” said Arnett. “We should anticipate potential conflicts with wildlife migrations that interface with all forms of energy development and other disturbance.” The signers noted that “Ensuring migration movement and functionality may require the state wildlife agency request leasing deferrals…or implementation of special management recommendations.”

The letter concluded by emphasizing that “the state and federal departments and agencies, and private landowners all must have long-term, institutionalized support for corridor conservation” and encouraged the state “to pursue all avenues that secure long-term support for conservation that will transcend multiple Administrations at both the state and federal levels.

“Healthy populations of mule deer, elk and other big game are a key economic driver for New Mexico’s economy,” says Dr. Ben Brown, a New Mexico resident and retired wildlife biologist with 48 years’ experience in wildlife conservation. “Conservation is a long-term endeavor. Both the state and federal governments need to ensure the functionality of habitat and migratory movements with long-term, institutionalized policy and funding for these efforts.”

Read the letter from 14 wildlife and habitat experts here.

Melinda Kassen

March 5, 2020

We Need To Look At the Big Picture When It Comes to Environmental Reviews

Changes to a bedrock conservation law threaten to put blinders on federal decision-makers 

As sportsmen and women know, big game animals migrate through landscapes that stretch across many boundaries. Rivers cross both state lines and international borders. Fish swim not only in large navigable waters, but in their tributaries, including ones that are small, intermittent or even ephemeral; some fish, in early life stages, live in wetlands. And the North American flyways send ducks and other waterfowl across our whole country and into Canada every year. 

Our world is interconnected, which means we must look holistically at the impacts that human development has on land, water, wildlife, and fish.   

Unfortunately, the Administration’s recently proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would significantly inhibit federal agencies’ ability to measure these impacts 

President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970 directing federal agencies to take actions that “restore and enhance [and also] avoid or minimize any possible adverse effects of their actions upon the quality of the human environment.” 

NEPA requires every federal agency to consider the effects of its decisions on the environment; to look at a range of alternatives before acting; and to seek public comment on various aspects of a given project, from its scope and positive or negative effects to possible alternatives and mitigation. 

The rules guiding this process have not been updated since the 1980s, but earlier this year the Administration proposed a major set of changes: some of which threaten to undermine its effectiveness and others that are welcome improvements. 

For example, because so much of our communication is now conducted online, agencies should use web-based tools to announce proposed decisions and collect public comments.  This is a welcome improvement.   

There are also changes to streamline the process, in an effort to address widespread complaints that NEPA documents are too lengthy and take too long to develop.  TRCP supports these changes, in part because they do not impose rigid or arbitrary limits. We just hope the agencies are given the resources to accomplish these goals.  

As noted above, however, other changes are cause for concern. The purpose of NEPA has never been to require a specific outcome, but instead to ensure that federal decision making is well-informed by an awareness of and concern for any potential environmental impacts.  

Perhaps the most dramatic proposed change would eliminate an agency having to consider the cumulative impacts of its actions and look only at the immediate action’s direct effects on nearby lands and waters. These changes so limit NEPA’s directive to consider reasonably foreseeable effects that it would force agencies to consider an action in a vacuum. The TRCP strongly opposes this change because we live in a world both that is both connected and ever-changing.  

It is hard to imagine how an agency considers acting on a proposal without looking both at what is already there –roads and dams, cities and farm fields – and also what is expected in the near future – other new coastal developments, oil wells, timber sales or dams. Under the administration’s proposed rules, for example, agencies will not consider how multiple energy development proposals proposed across the same corridor would have a cumulative impact on a mule deer migrationNor would agencies be required to study how a project that diverts water would add to a larger problem, such as serious drought conditions on a river system that already has multiple diversions. 

So, please think about your future as sportsmen and women and exercise your public right to have a voice in this decision. Click here to learn more and submit a public comment by March 10.

 

 

Photo: Bob Wick, BLM via Flickr

Randall Williams

February 28, 2020

A Conservation Consensus in Nevada

New poll shows strong support for additional wildlife crossings and new safeguards for migration routes

These days, it can seem like a daunting challenge to find an issue that on 9 out of 10 registered voters will agree. That’s particularly true when you’re polling across party lines, up and down the socioeconomic ladder, and in rural and urban areas alike.

But sportsmen and women should be encouraged by a new report out of Nevada, which demonstrated overwhelming support for two critical issues facing the West’s big game animals: migration corridor conservation and highway crossings for wildlife.

As roads and development increasingly fragment the seasonal habitats and routes used by elk, mule deer, and antelope, it has become much more difficult for our herds to reach the winter and summer ranges where they can access the best-available food sources throughout the year. And highways in particular not only pose a barrier to migrating herds, as GPS collar data has shown; collisions between wildlife and vehicles pose a significant safety risk to drivers and passengers on our roads.

According to the poll, conducted by the research firm FM3 for The Pew Charitable Trusts, registered voters in Nevada agree on the need to pursue common-sense solutions to these issues. More than 93% support the implementation of new conservation measures to protect wildlife migration corridors, and 92% support the installation of additional wildlife overpasses and underpasses to protect migrating wildlife.

Significantly, 77% of registered voters in Nevada said that wildlife migration should be prioritized over oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains, home to the state’s largest mule deer herd. Hunters and anglers have led an effort to defend the Rubies, an iconic destination for sportsmen and women, against speculative energy development. These findings suggest widespread support for the Ruby Mountain Protection Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) earlier this year.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the numbers highlighted in the report:

  • 77% of Nevadans would prioritize wildlife migration over oil and gas drilling in the Ruby Mountains, home to the state’s largest mule deer herd.
  • 93% of Nevadans support the implementation of new conservation measures to safeguard wildlifemigration corridors.
  • 90% of Nevadans would like public land managers to maintain open migration corridors so herds can move across public lands unimpeded.
  • 92% of Nevadans support the installation of additional highway overpasses and underpasses to protect migrating wildlife.
  • 84% of Nevadans see a need for increased public funding for wildlife crossing structures.
  • The Nevada Department of Transportation estimates that there are more than 500 wildlife-vehicle collisions in the state. Including medical bills, emergency responder resources, and losses in productivity, the agency suggests these accidents cost more than $19 million in total.

 

If you would like to learn more about the Ruby Mountain Protection Act and efforts to conserve Nevada’s largest mule deer herd, visit www.sportsmenfortherubies.com.
Click the link below to take action:

Support Conservation in the Ruby Mountains

 

Top photo: BLM Nevada, Chip Caroon via Flickr

Virginia General Assembly Passes Legislation to Strengthen Menhaden Conservation

Bill supports recreational fishing economy and science-based management

With strong bipartisan support the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that improves menhaden management in the Atlantic.

The bill, which is headed to Governor Northam’s desk, transfers management authority of Atlantic menhaden to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other saltwater fishery in the Commonwealth.

Once signed into law, the legislation puts Virginia on a path toward compliance with the regional fishery management plan which was flouted by foreign fishing giant Omega Protein.

“With this landmark decision, the Virginia General Assembly has acknowledged the critical role that recreational fishing plays in the Virginia economy and the need for science, and not politics, to guide management,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “For too long, Omega has exploited the Chesapeake Bay at the expense of recreational anglers. This is a huge step forward for sound fisheries conservation in the Chesapeake. The recreational fishing community thanks the bill sponsors and Governor Northam for their leadership as well as the unfailing support of charter captains, fishing guides and other small businesses who rely on a healthy Chesapeake Bay for their livelihoods.”

In late 2019, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found Omega Protein had exceeded the Chesapeake Bay reduction fishing cap by 35 million pounds, a ruling upheld by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Conserving menhaden is particularly important because striped bass, which feed on menhaden, are in worrisome decline.

“As a critical food source for rockfish and other important recreational fisheries, menhaden must be managed sustainably to support their role in the ecosystem,” said Mike Leonard, the American Sportfishing Association’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “Allowing the fisheries management experts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to manage menhaden is a long-awaited step in ensuring science-based management of the resource. The sportfishing industry is particularly grateful to Governor Northam and leaders in the Virginia state legislature for prioritizing this bill and working diligently toward its passage.”

“There is a growing need for more robust conservation practices in our fisheries – not only with menhaden but all forage fish – and the passage of this bill is an important step towards better recognizing and correcting the harmful impacts overfishing can have on our communities,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Protecting menhaden is essential for recreational activities in the Chesapeake Bay and we thank Virginia legislators for taking action to that ensure our marine ecosystems remain healthy for generations to come.”

 

Captain Chris Dollar is a professional fishing guide, tackle shop owner, all-around Chesapeake outdoorsman, and writer.

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The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.

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