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