By: Eric Clewis
For the majority of the past century, the status quo was the protection of vast landscapes that would, in turn, protect critical wildlife habitat. With a growing understanding of wildlife ecology, however, our focus has shifted and our priorities have broadened. We now understand that large landscape conservation is not enough to sustain our wildlife. Wildlife needs room to roam and that means an interconnected landscape that allows free movement over the course of changing environments, stressors, and the organism’s life cycle.
The threats to wildlife movement are almost too many to count; habitat degradation and loss, urban development, disease, invasive species, and climate change name just a few of the many roadblocks to successful wildlife conservation and landscape connectivity. That’s why it is critical for wildlife conservationists to identify, and work to protect key migratory corridors. Over the past year, the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) has taken an active role in working with other conservation organizations, hunters, and landowners to support new efforts to conserve big game migration corridors in Montana.
Recently, Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned a new poll that was conducted by the research firms FM3 and New Bridge Strategy. Over 500 Montanans were polled and results showed resounding support for work enhancing and protecting big game migratory corridors across the state. From that poll, roughly 88% of respondents were in favor of constructing new wildlife crossings and adopting strategies that conserve migratory routes. Additionally, nearly three-quarters responded in favor of requiring new housing developments to avoid migration routes and 87% support incentivizing private landowners to protect wildlife movement. This data shows that Montanans from all walks of life understand the risks and are ready to take steps towards protecting their wildlife.
Ultimately the poll also demonstrated that Montanans are keyed in on the real issues at hand. Montana residents consistently rated barriers to wildlife movement, such as highways and fences, as significant threats to migrating wildlife. It’s no secret that Montana is growing. With growth comes new roads, new fences, and increased impacts on wildlife habitat. Having support from a wide array of residents will be key to overcoming these challenges. This will not only make Montana safer for wildlife but will also reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and make our roads safer for people as well.
Fortunately, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) is already moving forward to demonstrate their commitment to these issues by producing a new strategy called the Terrestrial Wildlife Movement and Migration Strategy, which will guide the department towards highlighting and enhancing their work in conserving migratory pathways for wildlife within this state. This document identifies issues to wildlife movement in Montana while also establishing the vision and strategies needed to achieve functioning landscape connectivity.
The issues that are impacting the future of wildlife movement and connectivity in Montana are daunting, but there is overwhelming support for conserving big game migration routes and improving habitat connectivity for wildlife. Whether red, blue, urban, or rural, people across Montana can agree that we need to take strong steps toward making our landscapes work for both people and wildlife. Public opinion, just like wildlife science, has evolved to meet new challenges and Montanans are up for the task. We encourage all wildlife conservationists to speak to your state officials, federal land managers, and the Governor to let them know that we all stand behind these initiatives and that it is time to take action towards protecting migratory wildlife in Montana.
Photo by Marcus Strange.