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Here’s how recently passed legislation will be implemented to improve habitat connectivity and help wildlife safely cross our roadways
In one of the major victories for conservation this year, the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November provides new federal funding for projects and research to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve habitat connectivity for mule deer, elk, and pronghorn. One of the key provisions is the establishment of a new wildlife crossings pilot program that will dedicate $350 million over a five-year period for the construction of new wildlife-friendly overpasses, underpasses, and fences that funnel animals safely across roads.
This is a major win because, for the first time ever, there is now programmatic federal investment to directly support the work of state wildlife and transportation agencies focusing on this issue. Sportsmen and sportswomen understand that crossing infrastructure is essential to supporting the unimpeded movement of wildlife as animals follow seasonal and historical migrations each year. But it also reduces wildlife-vehicle collisions that cost human lives and millions of dollars in property damage.
We’ve known for years that crossings are effective, but without this dedicated funding, projects were harder to pay for because they were in competition with other transportation infrastructure needs. With just a fraction of a percent of the total spend on American infrastructure recently approved by Congress and the president, this investment will make an outsized impact on migratory wildlife populations and human safety.
Here’s what you need to know about the next steps for this first-of-its-kind program.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act directed the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to distribute the $350 million over five years through a competitive grant process to projects that reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve wildlife connectivity. The first $60 million will be awarded before September 30, 2022.
There are many strong examples of projects that could serve as models for the pilot program. In Wyoming, the Trappers Point project, completed in 2012 at a cost of $12 million, has enabled thousands of mule deer and pronghorns to cross the highway safely each year. The Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated that prior to the crossing’s construction, motor vehicle collisions with wildlife at the site resulted in $500,000 in damage annually. In the first three years, the overpasses and underpasses at Trappers Point saw 85,000 documented wildlife crossings, while vehicle-wildlife collisions decreased by about 80 percent.
In northeastern Nevada, a herd of over 5,000 mule deer utilize a series of five crossings and four underpasses that were constructed over Highway 93 and Interstate 80 at a cost of approximately $35 million. These structures have resulted in nearly 40,000 documented safe crossings since the projects began in 2010.
Oregon’s first crossing—completed in 2012 in the central part of the state along Highway 97—has reduced collisions by 85 percent. It has supported safe crossing for more than 40 different species, but mule deer in particular have benefited as they migrate between their summer and winter ranges. The Oregon Department of Transportation has identified at least 10 more projects like this that are currently awaiting funding. Many other states are in the same boat.
The Nevada Department of Transportation believes that if there are five or more vehicle collisions with deer per mile of road each year, it actually costs more to do nothing than to build the crossing structures. In fact, evaluation, engineering, and siting of these wildlife projects should be part of any roadway expansion and considered upfront when possible.
What’s more, Western states in particular have demonstrated significant leadership on building crossings where it most benefits migratory wildlife and keeps migration corridors intact. This makes federal infrastructure dollars go even further by also creating habitat gains.
Dedicated funding will help get those projects done sooner, but more data may be necessary in some states to prioritize the most important crossing projects. Migration mapping from GPS-collared animals, paired with data showing where animals are most frequently hit on highways, helps agencies pinpoint where these crossing projects are most needed. Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and several other states have already used wildlife and transportation data to prioritize locations for crossings to build projects into long-term transportation plans. This kind of planning will help put new funds to work quickly, and clearly demonstrates a need for further investment.
The Federal Highway Administration is currently accepting public comment on implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allowing stakeholders and the public the opportunity to suggest the best process for soliciting, reviewing, and awarding grant applications through the new competitive grant program for crossings. Over the coming months, the TRCP and its partners will submit formal comments and meet with these officials to ensure that funding gets awarded as quickly as possible and to projects that support the movement of big game species.
Meanwhile, at the state level, the TRCP will continue to support mapping and prioritization efforts that lead to projects that can compete successfully for grant funding. Our field representatives will meet with state wildlife and transportation agencies to help facilitate collaborative efforts, inform state legislators about its importance, and coordinate with other stakeholder groups to build momentum and public support. All of this will help ensure that states are able to utilize funding from the new crossings program most effectively.
The pilot program’s $350 million over five years is an unprecedented amount of funding specifically for wildlife crossings, but we know that project needs far outweigh the available funds. In the long term, it will be critical to demonstrate the success of this program and the need for continued and increased funding beyond 2026. Securing this important funding is just the start of a long road ahead for our work to get more wildlife crossing projects built in support of our big game herds.
UPDATE: Now you can encourage decision-makers in your state to prioritize the construction of wildlife crossings and apply for the dedicated funding that is newly available through this first-of-its-kind competitive grant program. Sign our open letter in support of wildlife crossing projects in your state.
You can also support these ongoing priorities by considering making a donation before the end of the year. Here’s where you can find out about SITKA’s generous offer to match new and increased donations to the TRCP, making your gift go further for conservation. And here’s why we call on you for your individual support of our mission at this time each year. It matters more than you know.
Top photo: Greg Nickerson/Wyoming Migration Initiative
It’s December, so you (and everyone else) are getting mail and emails about year-end charitable giving. It’s easy to find this annoying and immediately send them to the trash bin.
Before you do this, I’d like to share more about why we ask you to give.
At TRCP, we have an annual budget of about $7 million. This pays for the 37 staff members across the country who mobilize hunters and anglers around key issues, like conserving migration corridors, enhancing private land habitat, or protecting the base of the marine ecosystem. These are the folks who organize small businesses to weigh in and convene the disparate elements of the conservation community behind common causes.
Your funds pay for the government affairs and communications teams who design and implement complicated advocacy campaigns that help make ideas like the Great American Outdoors Act a reality and drive legislation like the pending MAPLand Act to expand your access to the outdoors. And your funds support the unseen infrastructure at TRCP that ensures the organization can maintain the highest levels of financial efficiency and transparency on Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the Better Business Bureau. (Still have questions about how we solicit and handle donations? View our Gift Acceptance Policy or email our chief development officer, Jenni Henry.)
The TRCP is not like most conservation organizations. We do not have a funding model based on dues or banquets, because we don’t want to compete with our 61 partner organizations. We don’t do direct mail for the same reason, and because that process costs a lot of money to raise a small amount. In fact, membership is free at TRCP, because we want you engaged in and informed about the most important conservation issues. And we don’t have a beautiful quarterly magazine for you to enjoy around the holiday fire, because those are also expensive to produce.
About two-thirds of our $7-million budget comes from more than 40 foundations, and the great majority of this funding is restricted for specific projects—like migration corridor conservation in the Rockies or menhaden conservation in the Atlantic and Gulf. The remaining one-third of our annual budget comes from the more than 100 conservation-minded companies that support TRCP in some way and from you—our 125,000+ members, supporters, and advocates.
The importance of individual contributions cannot be overstated. Because your donations are generally not restricted, we can use the funds where we think they are most necessary. This could mean investing in key issues well before they are on the public radar. For example, the TRCP began investing in identifying natural infrastructure solutions more than two years ago, and this work came to fruition earlier this fall, when Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Your support also allows us to move quickly to address emerging threats and opportunities. We have done this in the past when, for example, a misguided member of Congress decided that it was a good idea to sell off public lands to help balance the budget.
So, before you hit ‘delete’ on an email from TRCP asking for your support, remember why your gift—no matter the size—is important. If you do choose to support our work financially, thank you. Click here to make a tax-deductible year-end donation to the TRCP.
Thank you for supporting TRCP’s mission of guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. Happy holidays!
In early 2021, the TRCP staff clearly communicated top hunter and angler priorities to the incoming Biden-Harris Administration and members of the 117th Congress. Our top ten must-do list for the administration and top five priorities for Congress were among our most popular blog posts of the year, making it clear that American hunters and anglers are engaged in these policy discussions—and we let decision-makers know that sportsmen and sportswomen are paying attention. At the 100-day mark, we’d seen progress on many, but not all, of our top priorities, and conservation has advanced even further in the remainder of the year. Read on for details.
In April 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration implemented multiple recommendations from the TRCP and our private land conservation partners to boost shrinking enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program. These changes will not only help to pull the CRP out of a slump, they will also better support farmers and ranchers who want to incorporate conservation into their business plans. Learn more about Farm Bill conservation programs here.
Almost immediately after the inauguration, the news of the administration’s support for a global initiative to conserve 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030 had left some landowners, politicians, industry executives, and even conservation groups fearful about what exactly this would mean. Fortunately, the voices of sportsmen and sportswomen—including those behind huntfish3030.com—were heard, and the White House’s 10-year “America the Beautiful” initiative includes key TRCP priorities, like expanding habitat conservation, increasing outdoor recreation access, incentivizing the voluntary conservation of private land, and creating jobs through conservation. Here’s what you need to know about 30 by 30.
After years of facing conservation rollbacks in bucket-list hunting and fishing destinations, hunters and anglers finally got some good news in 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would restore conservation safeguards for 9 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, and the public can weigh in on the detailed plan until mid-January. The EPA also announced new steps to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay from mining, while the Ruby Mountains Protection Act—a TRCP priority, given its impact on Nevada’s largest mule deer herd—was debated and voted out of committee. Learn more at sportsmenfortherubies.com.
In an important step for fish and waterfowl, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers began to reconsider which waters and wetlands should be protected under the Clean Water Act, with formal feedback provided by the hunting and fishing community. This marks the fourth pendulum swing since a series of Supreme Court cases created confusion in the early 2000s. For more detail, check out our brief timeline on the history of the Clean Water Act.
Throughout the year, new commitments were made by the USDA, the Department of the Interior, and the governors of New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado to conserve and enhance wildlife migration corridors—a signature TRCP issue. Learn more on our resource page devoted to all things big game migration.
Many key priorities of the TRCP and our partners are also included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed by President Biden in November. We successfully pushed for a revolutionary program to build more wildlife-friendly highway crossings and once-in-a-generation investments in stream connectivity, forest health, coastal and estuarine habitat conservation, water quality, and water conservation projects across the West.
In 2021, lawmakers reintroduced and advanced the TRCP-led MAPLand Act, which would require public land agencies to digitize their paper maps and access information. Once accomplished, this would help you identify more inroads to public hunting and fishing areas using smartphone apps and GPS devices. After clearing committees in both chambers, the legislation is poised for floor votes that could send it to President Biden’s desk next year.
This summer—as chronic wasting disease outbreaks traced back to captive deer operations in Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota highlighted the need for definitive federal action—we worked with lawmakers to craft comprehensive chronic wasting disease legislation that would establish substantial funding streams for management activities, education, and research priorities. We’re very proud to stand behind the bill that was introduced by Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) in October and passed by the House just last week.
Part of the fun of what we do is making you aware of the hunters and anglers out there who help to power conservation without asking for any acclaim. This is just a small window into the community that we feel lucky to be a part of. If you need some uplifting reading this holiday season, check out our Q&As with Durrell Smith, Kelsey Johnson, Gregg Flores, and Rachel Smiley. Be inspired by what Clint Bentley was able to accomplish for Nevada’s bighorn sheep populations, just by speaking up. Let Austin Snow take you along on his hunt with Steven Rinella and Janis Putelis of MeatEater. Or take just a few minutes to watch Suzy Weiser, Charles Garcia, and Geo Romero explain why conservation in the Colorado River Basin is personal for them.
That wraps up our top ten for the year. Thanks for following along and supporting our work to create conservation success across the country. It wouldn’t be possible without you. Want to do even more for habitat, access, and the outdoor recreation economy? Donate to the TRCP before December 31, and SITKA will match some or all of your gift. Learn more here.
Email subscribers: The December 17th Roosevelt Report is the last of the year, and we’ll be back on January 7, 2022. Want to get on the list for the next one? Subscribe here.
Top photo courtesy of Kyle Mlynar.
Agencies and the public have a clearer view of the challenges facing Wyoming’s herds
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the University of Wyoming released a web map today that highlights current levels of human disturbance in Wyoming’s three designated mule deer migration corridors, including the 150-mile Red Desert to Hoback corridor.
The web map was developed by University of Wyoming’s Geographic Information Science Center in collaboration with TRCP to serve as a resource for both wildlife and land-use managers, as well as the interested public. It incorporates the best available data on migration and disturbance to inform future decision-making when conservation opportunities arise or development is proposed in migration corridors.
“We would like to see this web map utilized as a resource for future decisions as it provides a unique piece of information about the current level of disturbance in these corridors,” said Nick Dobric, the Wyoming field manager for the TRCP. “The mule deer in the Sublette herd, for example, that migrate and winter in the Rock Springs area have been struggling since the early 2000s and are currently 34 percent below their population objective, resulting in the loss of hunting opportunity with shorter seasons and reduced tags. This web map highlights parts of the corridor that could benefit from habitat restoration and where future development could have a big impact on the health of our herds, such as in stopover areas.”
Using the township and range grid system, the web map provides disturbance calculations at three different scales and provides a feature to customize the analysis boundary. The information displayed utilizes publicly available data, including the disturbance layer developed by the state of Wyoming for sage-grouse conservation. Research has consistently demonstrated that anthropogenic disturbances impact mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and other big-game species. One study, conducted in 2020, indicates that migrating mule deer have a disturbance threshold of approximately 3 percent of a landscape’s surface area, dependent upon the size and configuration of development, as well as specific vegetation and migration habitats.
“Wyoming is fortunate to have robust wildlife populations and hunting opportunities, in large part because of our still functioning migration corridors,” said Joy Bannon, Policy Director for Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “Development is essential for our state, but it needs to be thoughtfully planned. As the web map shows, disturbance is relatively limited in most parts of the corridor and with smart planning in the future – it can stay relatively the same so that we can continue to enjoy our incredible wildlife.”
Wyoming has been at the forefront of migration corridor research and conservation for decades. In the 1960s, Frank and John Craighead developed the first maps of elk migrating in and out of Yellowstone National Park. In recent years, the development of GPS technology has revolutionized the field as researchers are now able to document movements in unprecedented detail. The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission adopted a migration corridor strategy in 2016 in part due to the growing body of knowledge regarding migratory animals’ behavior and habitat needs. Likewise, Governor Gordon issued an executive order in 2020 to conserve migration corridors while balancing multiple-uses and protecting private property rights. This web map is an additional piece of information for managers and the public to utilize.
Wyoming takes well-deserved pride in its role as a leader in researching and conserving the migration corridors used by our big game herds,” said Josh Coursey, CEO of Muley Fanatic Foundation. “Governor Gordon’s executive order, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission’s migration strategy, and cooperative efforts between the state and federal agencies like the BLM, all demonstrate a recognition of the importance of this issue, and it is our hope that the web mapping tool will prove useful to those efforts and guide further action moving forward.”
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More