Colorado's sportsmen and women owe a big thank you to Gov. Jared Polis for prioritizing one of our state's most valuable assets — our wildlife. By signing Executive Order 2019-011, the governor has acknowledged that animals like elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn need room to roam as our state continues to grow. The order directs the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation to prioritize management of big game migration corridors and seasonal habitats — informed by the best available science.

Sportsmen and women have long recognized the value of Colorado's wildlife, supporting financially the conservation and management of big game through the purchase of hunting licenses and habitat stamps. Non-hunters in our state also recognize the awe-inspiring experiences of catching a glimpse of white through the trees during a walk, hearing elk bugle while out for a hike, or spotting a moose in the marsh alongside the mountain bike trail.

Wildlife-related activities generate $5 billion in economic output annually and continue to be an important driver for Colorado's rural communities, where the majority of these activities take place. Wildlife have long been part of Colorado's economic success and cultural heritage because of decades of conservation work through partnerships between wildlife managers, private landowners, non-profit organizations, businesses, governmental entities, and citizens.

Colorado's growth each year further fragments and reduces the habitat our big game herds need to forage, reproduce, and seek shelter. Critically, too, these animals need pathways to move unimpeded as they travel from their summer foraging and reproductive grounds to winter sheltering grounds. Governor Polis' order will ensure that we address this challenge head-on by strengthening both science and policy for big game migration corridors and seasonal habitats.

For one, we need to continue to invest in habitat. The more we lose, fragment and alter habitat the more important the conservation of remaining habitat becomes. Revenue from hunting license purchases, along with funds from Great Outdoors Colorado, have fueled the Colorado Wildlife Habitat Program since 2007. This competitive program funds landowners who wish to voluntarily conserve valuable habitat for wildlife. To date, the program has invested approximately $164 million in public and private dollars to protect a total of 257,000 acres across Colorado. An additional $11 million is planned to fund projects this year, and wildlife corridors are one stated priority for funding, thanks to the State's leadership.

We also need to help wildlife move across existing infrastructure like our busy roads and highways. Wildlife crossing projects relieve barriers to movement, reduce wildlife mortality on roads, and protect public safety. The Governor's elevated focus on this issue sets Colorado up to compete on a national scale for new funding sources. The federal highway bill that recently passed the Senate includes, for the first time, $250 million for five years specifically for wildlife crossing infrastructure projects. We need Colorado's delegation in the House of Representatives to ensure this minimum level of funding stays in, as we will directly benefit from it.

And finally, since wildlife don't observe political boundaries, one significant impediment to their free movement is the patchwork of land in Colorado owned and managed by different public agencies — agencies who could do better at working together. Governor Polis's order puts the state exactly where it should be — in the driver's seat to decide what is best for migrating big game. Federal land management agencies should follow this lead to ensure their decisions best conserve big game migration routes and seasonal habitats. A more consistent approach to migration corridor conservation on state and federal lands would be a great benefit to our big game populations and the people of Colorado. The state of Colorado is making that happen.

Madeleine West is Western Lands deputy director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a non-profit sportsmen's conservation organization that works to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. She previously served as assistant director for parks, wildlife, and lands at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources under Gov. John W. Hickenlooper where she developed state-level policy related to wildlife, outdoor recreation, state lands, and forestry issues. Madeleine resides in Denver and enjoys Colorado's outdoors with her two young children.

 

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