Study examines legal framework for protecting migration

By Laura Bies

Highways and other human infrastructure can often block key migration routes, especially in the West. ©Wyoming Migration Initiative

The Wildlife Management Institute recently analyzed the policy and statutory framework for big game migration corridor conservation in the western United States. This research built on an inventory of big game migration corridors the institute completed in 2017.

The assessment, which focused on 11 western states, also looked at how state wildlife and transportation agencies currently work together to address both wildlife-vehicle collisions and the impact that highways can have on migration routes.

The study showed that state wildlife agencies often do not have authority to directly regulate the land use or other decisions that can impact wildlife migration. Further, the study found variation in policy guidance that these agencies receive from their governor’s office or state wildlife boards related to migration corridors.

However, the analysis also determined that wildlife agencies often do have the statutory authority to work with other state agencies, the federal government and landowners to use non-regulatory means for wildlife and land conservation. In addition, these agencies are increasingly finding ways to work in collaboration with state transportation agencies to reduce the effect of highways on migration corridors and to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Recently, many states have been working to protect migration corridors and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, according to the analysis. Efforts such as a “wildlife conservation” license plate in Wyoming can help to generate the funding needed to mitigate the effects of highways on migratory corridors.

That state has been in the forefront of protecting migratory routes. Several years ago, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission established a system for classifying migratory pathways, along with standards for agency input on land use and development plans.

“Finding ways for infrastructure to reduce impacts on wildlife movement and migration routes, while keeping people safe at the same time, is a huge issue for the wildlife profession,” said Caroline Murphy, AWB®, government relations manager at The Wildlife Society. “States working to find novel ways to manage and protect wildlife corridors deserve additional buy in and support.”

In New Mexico, the Department of Game and Fish and Department of Transportation are working together to develop a “wildlife corridor action plan,” which will identify highway crossings and or other barriers that could pose a risk to wildlife migration, as well as methods to mitigate those impacts.

According to the review, a lack of resources — both financial and human — often prevents further collaboration between state wildlife and transportation agencies. Earlier this year, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership organized the Ungulates and Highways Workshop, where wildlife and transportation staff from 14 western states worked collaboratively to find ways to overcome these barriers.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Pew Charitable Trusts provided funding for this assessment.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

Share your thoughts on this article, and others, on our Facebook and Twitter pages.