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On Thursday March 9th, the Nevada Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure held a hearing on bill AB112 to establish a Wildlife Crossing Fund within the State’s General Fund. The committee received testimony, all in support of passage, from over 20 individuals across diverse interests including hunting and conservation groups, livestock producers, road construction, and local government. The Fund, which would be administered by the Department of Transportation to work collaboratively with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, will support new and existing projects that allow wildlife to migrate safely across highways.
“Our roads, highways, and overall human expansion into wildlife habitat has to be balanced with their need to have safe migratory corridors,” said Carl Erquiaga, TRCP Nevada field representative. “Nevadans overwhelmingly support protecting wildlife corridors and this bill provides critical resources to ensure safe migratory routes for our native wildlife, like mule deer, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep.”
In Nevada, several major big game herds follow migration routes that traverse over a hundred miles annually, often crossing multiple major highways along their way. In some instances, animals cross these roadways for their daily movement hundreds of times a year. According to a Nevada Department of Transportation study, more than 500 wildlife-vehicle collisions occur on the state’s roads annually, at a cost of over $19 million to drivers and Nevada taxpayers. While Nevada has been a leader in constructing safe wildlife crossings in places like Interstate 80, Highway 93 and Interstate 11 near Hoover Dam, there are many locations in need of similar projects.
If passed, AB112 will provide needed funding for crossing projects that protect both people and wildlife. This initiative will also make Nevada more competitive for similar federal funding. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in 2021, directed the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to distribute $350 million over five years through a competitive grant process to projects that reduce the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve wildlife connectivity. Successful applicants will need to contribute matching funds, and AB112 would create a mechanism for Nevada to meet this requirement.
“I don’t know how many people have really been around these crossings, but they are great,” said assemblyman Burt Gerr of the 33rd district during yesterday’s hearing. “I think this is a great bill and a great project.”
The bill was amended to include language calling for consultation with affected parties who have grazing permits on federal or state land or private landowners near future crossings. The committee will likely hold a work session in the future and the bill will then go to Ways and Means before an assembly floor vote. The state Senate will need to vote to pass AB112 before reaching Governor Lombardo for signature to become law. Nevada sportspeople must remain ready to voice their support if the bill is to cross the finish line.
The Department of the Interior has announced it will invest $23 million in landscape-scale conservation and restoration in the Prairie Pothole Region states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
This major commitment to wetlands that support more than half of North America’s waterfowl is one piece of the department’s plan for $120 million in new conservation funding authorized by legislation in 2022. The plan also includes $20 million for projects in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and $10 million for habitat restoration in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River.
Taken together, these three pots of funding signal a significant investment in the health of the river and the Central and Mississippi flyways.
“We’re pleased to see this investment in the irreplaceable wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region, which is recognized as some of the most productive waterfowl habitat in the world,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Sportsmen and sportswomen continue to be keenly interested in how the administration is implementing its climate resilience goals by investing in the lands and waters that sequester carbon, provide critical fish and wildlife habitat, and support thriving communities. We celebrate this announcement from DOI and look forward to working with decision-makers to ensure that habitat improvements are made where they will have the greatest impact for fish, wildlife, and Americans.”
Grasslands restoration and other habitat projects that improve climate resilience were also among the funding priorities announced this week.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed its own plan for $850 million in new conservation investments.
Photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Flickr
The TRCP has long worked to defend a balance of the many demands on our public lands, which sustain so many of our hunting and fishing opportunities in the U.S. The push for increased renewable energy production on public lands is creating new challenges that we are doing our best to address with public land managers.
There is an undeniable need to transition as quickly as possible to low-carbon sources of energy to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. I was encouraged by the Bureau of Land Management’s recent announcement detailing its intentions to revise and potentially expand its 2012 Western Solar Plan to all 11 Western states. Expanding the geographic scope of this planning document and updating it to incorporate the best available science, like new data on recently mapped big game migration corridors, is the most responsible way to expeditiously meet the administration’s goal of deploying 25 GW of renewable energy development on public lands by 2025, while minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife and other public land resources.
There are, however, trade-offs that the BLM must consider when updating its Western Solar Plan. After touring several utility-scale solar facilities myself, I hesitate to enthusiastically endorse the widespread deployment of this type of development on our public lands. My unease comes from the fact that unlike other forms of energy development—such as wind, or even oil and gas—utility-scale solar generating facilities are usually high-fenced and allow for no other uses of the land within their boundaries. This exclusive use of the land can span thousands of acres for a single solar facility and will cover hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands to meet the administration’s goals. The magnitude of habitat removal and loss of public access from the BLM’s proposed expansion of utility-scale solar development on public lands is unprecedented.
Even with the most careful planning, the expansive size of utility-scale solar developments may have unintended consequences for habitat connectivity and migratory wildlife like big game. A poorly sited solar development in Wyoming that blocked a migration route and forced more than 1,000 pronghorn into a nearby highway right-of-way is a recent reminder of the potential for unintended consequences from solar development. The bitter irony is that these same species that migrate to access critical resources for survival will need large, connected landscapes more than ever to adapt to a changing climate.
I am reminded of a recent quote from Dan Ashe, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who said that addressing climate change will not, by itself, reverse the trend of increasingly widespread habitat fragmentation and the loss of wildlands and wildlife. “The lie is that if we address the climate crisis, we will also solve the biodiversity crisis,” said Ashe.
There are also implications for public access to public lands. A friend of mine recently showed up at his favorite spot to hunt pronghorn and found it fenced and covered with solar panels. Similarly, I was devastated to find out that my best dove hunting location has been approved for utility-scale solar development. I’m left wondering if the biological and social costs of developing large solar facilities on intact, otherwise undisturbed public lands might outweigh the incremental benefits they will provide in our fight to save the climate.
I was somewhat relieved to find out that I am not alone in thinking that utility-scale solar development might not be the highest and best use of our precious public lands. The public comments during the BLM’s scoping meetings on its Western Solar Plan revision were almost universally opposed to expanding utility-scale solar development on public lands.
These comments come in the context of explosive year-over-year increases in recreational demand on our public lands, and an article in High Country News revealing that if solar panels were put on top of big box stores in the 11 Western states targeted by the BLM, they would generate more than 31 million megawatt-hours of electricity—vastly exceeding the administration’s goals. While there are significant logistical and regulatory constraints to increasing distributed solar generation on big box stores and other existing developments, the public is asking why we aren’t tackling these problems head-on before we further compromise our public lands with additional utility-scale solar development.
The TRCP and our partners came together during the BLM’s public scoping comment period to provide detailed recommendations on how to minimize the impacts of utility-scale solar development on public lands while increasing generating capacity. Specifically, we urged officials to focus development on previously disturbed lands and exclude areas with high habitat or recreational value. You can still join us by commenting when the BLM releases a draft programmatic environmental impact statement—likely late this summer or early next fall. Look for future communications here at trcp.org and on our social media for how to get involved when the draft is released.
In a major milestone for Everglades restoration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has broken ground on the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, which will collect, clean, and convey water south to reinvigorate wetlands and estuaries in South Florida.
While the Corps builds the reservoir to store excess water from Lake Okeechobee, the state-run South Florida Water Management District is responsible for constructing a treatment wetland that will clean the water. Construction began in 2020 and is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Together, these projects promise to reduce pollution, improve habitat, and restore the natural north-to-south water flows that once sustained the ecosystem.
In an on-site ceremony last week, many of our organizational partners were upheld as having played an essential role in advocating for the reservoir. Watch the video below for highlights and inspirational words from our friends at Captains for Clean Water and the Everglades Foundation.
This first step toward construction of the EAA Reservoir should be celebrated: Cleaner water and healthier sea grasses will benefit populations of spotted seatrout, redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass, and peacock bass when the reservoir is complete. Prevention of harmful algal blooms will also boost waterfowl populations and improve hunting and fishing opportunities.
But, as many said at the event, our work is not nearly done.
The TRCP is pushing Congress to allocate the funding necessary to complete this project and restore and conserve America’s Everglades. Take action using our simple advocacy tool to tell your lawmakers you support full funding and expedient completion of Everglades restoration work.
Photo by Captains for Clean Water
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