House-passed highway bill provides funding for wildlife crossings

A highway bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month includes important funding for wildlife connectivity.

The $715 billion legislation extends for another five years the current legislation governing federal highways, including their funding, which expires in September.

The “Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act” was included as part of the “INVEST in America Act,” (H.R. 3684), a five-year surface transportation bill approved by the House in a vote of 221 to 201 on July 1. The provision authorizes the development of a national wildlife corridor system on public lands and creates a new competitive grant program for wildlife movement and habitat connectivity. It also calls for the development of a national corridor database.

The new grant program would provide up to $100 million a year over the next five years through competitive grants to states, tribes or other land managers to construct wildlife crossings over or under their highways. Collisions between vehicles and animals result in more than 200 human deaths and 26,000 injuries, as well as the death of more than 1 million large animals each year.

The bill also calls for a nationwide study of such collisions, a standardized data tracking system, and new national guidance to help determine when a state should put in place mitigation measures to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

A separate program also included in the bill would establish another new grant program to fund and support culvert restoration projects, restoring essential anadromous fish passages around the country.

The Senate is in the processing of developing its own highway bill. The current draft includes the wildlife crossing grant program, but would only provide a total of $350 million over the five-year life of the bill. Once the Senate passes a highway bill, any differences between the two bills will need to be reconciled before a final bill can be passed and signed into law.

The Wildlife Corridors Act was introduced into Congress as a stand-alone bill in 2019, and in two previous session of Congress. It was reported out by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2020 but did not receive a vote on the House floor before the 116th Congress ended. The Senate version of the bill did not advance out of committee last Congress.

Last year, The Wildlife Society joined nearly 40 other organizations in asking the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to consider wildlife in upcoming transportation legislation and to incorporate wildlife provisions included in the Senate transportation bill, approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee in January 2020.

Header Image: The highway bill recently passed by the House of Representatives provides funding for states and tribes to construct wildlife crossings over or under highways. Credit: Jeffrey Beale