wildlife corridor

These Tribes Are Building Crossings to Save Wildlife From Becoming Roadkill

Native American tribes are taking proactive steps to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, posing a significant threat to both humans and animals. The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, for instance, is advocating for a wildlife bridge to reduce elk-vehicle collisions on State Route 20. Similarly, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes successfully incorporated fences and over 40 wildlife crossings into the reconstruction of US 93 on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Tribal efforts are vital in preserving their lands and honoring the Spirit of Place. As you explore the complex issues surrounding wildlife conservation, you’ll uncover the inspiring stories of tribes working tirelessly to protect their environments.

Tribal Efforts to Protect Wildlife

As tribal nations work to safeguard their lands and the creatures that inhabit them, their efforts to protect wildlife have become an integral part of their cultural and environmental stewardship.

The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, for instance, is advocating for a wildlife bridge to reduce collisions between elk and vehicles on State Route 20 in the Skagit Valley. This initiative is vital, given that at least 229 elk were killed by cars between 2012 and 2019, posing a risk to both humans and animals.

Similarly, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes successfully worked with state and federal engineers to incorporate fences and over 40 wildlife crossings into the reconstruction of US 93 on the Flathead Indian Reservation in the early 1990s.

The Burns Paiute Tribe in Oregon has also collected data on animal movement and collision patterns on Highway 20.

These efforts demonstrate the tribes’ commitment to preserving their lands and honoring the Spirit of Place. By prioritizing wildlife protection, tribal nations are not only ensuring the well-being of their ecosystems but also upholding their cultural values.

Funding Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program

The Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, a grant initiative launched in 2023, distributes $350 million over five years to states, Native tribes, and other entities for animal-friendly infrastructure, providing a pivotal source of funding for tribal-led projects aimed at reducing roadkill and preserving wildlife habitats.

The program’s first round of funding, announced in December 2023, saw $110 million in grants awarded to various projects. Significantly, four of the 10 Western wildlife crossing projects selected for funding were led by Native tribes.

The Stillaguamish Tribe, for instance, partnered with the Upper Skagit Tribe to design a wildlife bridge. This funding injection is essential for tribal-led initiatives, which often struggle to secure resources for conservation efforts.

The Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program offers a fundamental opportunity for tribes to take the reins in protecting their lands and wildlife. By providing financial support, the program enables tribes to develop and implement innovative solutions to reduce roadkill and preserve habitats.

As the program continues to disburse funds, it is likely to have a significant impact on the conservation landscape, empowering tribes to become leaders in wildlife conservation.

Overcoming Challenges and Barriers

Despite the promise of the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, tribal-led projects still face significant obstacles, including funding, which remains a substantial barrier to implementing effective conservation measures.

The matching requirement for WCPP grants can be particularly challenging for tribes, which often lack the necessary funds.

Environmental groups have urged the US Department of Transportation to waive the matching requirement for tribes as a matter of equity, but the agency has not budged, citing federal share requirements in US statutes.

As a result, tribes are forced to ‘Frankenstein’ money together, using funds from partners and other federal programs to meet the matching requirement.

This can be a formidable task, and some projects may struggle to get off the ground.

However, tribes remain committed to protecting wildlife and preserving their lands.

Success Stories and Future Plans

Frequently, tribal-led projects have demonstrated remarkable success in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions and preserving biodiversity, with several notable examples emerging from the initial round of Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program funding.

The Stillaguamish Tribe, in partnership with the Upper Skagit, successfully secured funding to design a wildlife bridge, meeting the matching requirement by working with private landowners who contributed $1.2 million worth of land.

The Mescalero Apache Tribe received nearly a half-million dollars to evaluate future crossings on I-70, while the Puyallup Tribe of Indians got $216,000 to plan passages along a state highway.

The Salish and Kootenai tribes were granted $8.6 million to construct another overpass on Highway 93.

These success stories highlight the effectiveness of tribal-led projects in addressing wildlife-vehicle conflicts.

As the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program continues to distribute funding, tribal members and advocates hope that future grant cycles will exempt tribal-led projects from the matching requirement, allowing more tribes to access crucial funds for wildlife conservation efforts.

With continued support and collaboration, these projects can make a significant impact on preserving biodiversity and protecting both wildlife and human lives.

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