By MITCHELL UKROPINA

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this past week that 22 animal species and one plant species are no longer endangered. Normally, when you hear that, it’s a good thing, because once-endangered species are again thriving. Not this time. Instead, they’re gone forever, officially extinct.

As Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said, “The story arc is essentially the same. Humans altered their habitat in a significant way, and we couldn’t or didn’t do enough to change the trajectory before it was too late.”

The news is sobering, depressing even. But Haaland’s words give us guidance: We’ve altered habitats, and now we must fix this problem of our own making.

Of course, that’s no easy task. Human roads, cities, farms, shopping malls and fences have fractured the wildlife habitat across the United States, including here in Colorado. These built environments have carved up America’s wildlands into smaller and smaller isolated fragments.

This is incredibly disruptive — if not lethal — to Colorado’s migratory animals such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn and moose, which need the space to mate and seek out new territory. Additionally, habitat fragmentation diminishes genetic diversity, making wildlife less able to adjust to other extinction-threatening hurdles from disease to climate change.

But we need our cities and our roads too. For the most part, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle and restore all lands to their once-wild states. So, what is the solution?

One key pathway out of this conundrum is to reconnect these smaller, isolated habitats through wildlife corridors. Environment America Research and Policy Center’s recent report, Reconnecting Nature, highlighted seven projects that link habitats to form larger spaces for animals to roam. In the Western United States especially, large migratory animals need to be able to cross the highways that have interrupted their centuries old migration routes. This ensures the safety from collisions for both animals and the people that drive on these roads.

In a less-populated area, Wyoming is strategically placing fencing that guides elk, antelope and deer toward new wildlife crossings over the state’s highways. Wyoming kicked off the effort by studying the migratory routes of these ungulates, and then launched its project, which has resulted in an 80 percent reduction in wildlife-car collisions.

Colorado has already built a handful of wildlife corridors, most notably on Highway 9 between Kremling and Silverthorn. In 2016 the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), worked in association with local organizations to construct “first-of-its-kind wildlife overpass and underpass system.” The project also included fencing and 60 wildlife escape ramps to funnel animals to the wildlife passes. In just its first stage of construction, collisions fell by 90%.

Colorado’s commitment to data-based corridors continues today. Many more corridors have been proposed or are under construction all over the state following research periods. The Colorado Senate passed a bipartisan resolution to “protect wildlife corridors across the state.” And in his Habitat Connectivity Day declaration on Sept. 29 Governor Polis said, “Our success as a state is connected entirely to the success and longevity of our natural environment and of our wildlife. Coexistence with wildlife is not just a matter of public safety, because it prevents collisions between vehicles and wildlife, it’s also a moral issue, as stewards of Colorado.”

The list goes on, and you can read more in Environment Colorado’s Research and Policy Center’s recent report, Reconnecting Nature.

Wildlife corridors are working. Now, we need to invest more in them, to aid America’s collection of beautiful, fierce and peculiar creatures and “change the trajectory” before more species fall by the wayside.

Thankfully, further help could soon be on the way for Colorado. The bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress this month provides $350 million for wildlife crossings over and under our nation’s roads, like the ones in Colorado and Wyoming.

Including these funds in the infrastructure package makes a great deal of sense. Infrastructure has long been synonymous with roads, and this bill is no different. But now, infrastructure funding could ensure that wildlife can safely cross roads new and old.

Beyond crossings, our leaders should fund a broader set of wildlife corridors, including establishing urban parks, removing dams and creating protected areas that connect fragmented habitats.

Our lives are richer when our surroundings are teeming with life. We need to reconnect nature and give species a foothold on survival. If we do that, the next time we remove 23 species from the endangered list, it should be because they are thriving, not extinct.

Mitchell Ukropina is a Conservation Associate with Environment Colorado. Environment Colorado’s mission is to transform the power of our imaginations and our ideas into change that makes our world a greener and healthier place for all.