WASHINGTON — Pointing to a shocking new report that found nearly a third of the North American bird population has disappeared over the past 50 years, Congressman Vern Buchanan today called for passage of his legislation to address habitat loss for America’s wildlife.
The Audubon Society’s Florida policy director, Beth Alvi, praised the legislation in a meeting today with Buchanan in his Washington DC office. Alvi said Buchanan’s legislation would help address the loss of bird habitat, the main reason behind the startling decline in the bird population. The decline has cut across virtually every species of bird, from the tiny hummingbird to robins and sparrows.
Buchanan’s bill, the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, would authorize the Interior secretary to establish National Wildlife Corridors on federal lands as wells as designate a $50 million grant program for states, localities and private land owners to increase connectivity for native species.
“Audubon Florida supports H.R. 2795, the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019,” said Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida. “Everything from Florida panthers to ruby-throated hummingbirds need connections as they travel across Florida’s landscapes. Migrating birds often flock to the same places of high protein, cover, and water that large mammals use during their migrations. These corridors will also prove essential for wildlife and habitat migrating upslope ahead of sea level rise.”
The bill was introduced in the U.S. House by Buchanan and Rep. Don Beyer in May, and has earned support from a wide range of leaders from the scientific community and outdoor recreation industry, including a broad coalition of more than 200 conservation organizations.
Wildlife corridors are areas of land that connect one or more existing wildlife habitats, allowing the native species to safely move between established protected areas.
A recent study in the journal Science found that the population of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by nearly 30 percent since 1970, a loss of 2.9 billion birds. Habitat decline has been identified as a leading cause of species decline and extinction.
“Birds play a vital role in our ecosystem, contributing to the pollination of plants needed for food and for pest control,” Buchanan said. “This sobering report showcases how at risk birds and other wildlife are to habitat loss. Establishing wildlife corridors is one of the most effective ways to help threatened wildlife. We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”
Birds are also viewed as important indicators of environmental health in general and their decline may indicate more comprehensive ecological and environmental concerns. “If bird populations across all habitats are declining, that means something systemic is happening out there that is no doubt going to be affecting us too,” said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
The issue is of particular importance in Florida, where the manatee, Florida Panther, alligator and other species face a shrinking habitat. If signed into law, Buchanan’s bill could designate and protect the manatee’s seasonal migration routes by addressing habitat loss and degradation by removing obstructions, improving water quality and mitigating human disturbances.
The establishment of wildlife corridors would boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems and help safeguard America’s most iconic species from extinction crisis. Another recent study also published in Science found that linking wildlife habitats resulted in a flourishing ecosystem. The impact in the studied area was astounding with fewer plants species going extinct and a 14 percent increase in the number of plant species present.
Buchanan’s bill would protect many iconic species of Florida wildlife, including the manatee, panther and alligator. The Florida panther could also benefit from the establishment of a federal wildlife corridor. The panther currently is concentrated in Southern Florida, but establishing a corridor would allow the animals to travel to existing protected areas like the Apalachicola National Forest.
A UN report on biodiversity released earlier this year, showed that one million species of wildlife and plants are now threatened with extinction across the globe. One of the most effective ways to ensure the resiliency of species is connecting existing habitats and allowing for the migration of wildlife through these corridors.
Wildlife corridors can also aid in the protection of humans as wildlife vehicle collisions result in an estimated 26,000 human injuries and 200 deaths each year and a total economic impact of over $8 billion. Establishing these corridors to mitigate the danger of existing infrastructure can help avoid collisions like these by giving animals protected pathways.
Buchanan’s call for action comes ahead of a scheduled hearing on the legislation in the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow.
The bill has been endorsed by renowned biologist E.O. Wilson, stating that Buchanan’s bill, “would provide the most important step of any single piece of legislation at the present time in enlarging the nation’s protected areas and thereby saving large swaths of America’s wildlife and other fauna and flora, especially in this critical time of climate change and shifting locations of the original environments in which a large part of biodiversity has existed.”
Wildlife corridors have been implemented in some U.S. states and throughout the world and research shows that they ultimately reduce the risk of extinction for many species — but current law lacks requirements and incentives for federal land and water managers to address habitat connectivity needs. This legislation offers funding and sets up a framework to manage a national system of corridors, improving interagency coordination, and enhancing data collection and information sharing across jurisdictions to improve land management decisions throughout the United States.
In July, Buchanan, Beyer and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall hosted a briefing on their bill. The briefing was hosted in conjunction with leading animal organizations including the Wildlands Network, E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, Endangered Species Coalition, National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife. Buchanan, Beyer and Udall were joined on the panel by experts in biodiversity.
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