Tribal lands and waters are among the most vital habitat for hundreds of wildlife species, many of which need to travel considerable distances to find food, migrate and produce offspring that continue the health and vitality of their populations. But these species are running into literal roadblocks as the habitats they rely on continue to be fragmented by both man-made infrastructure and the consequences of climate change, which is only exacerbated by the lack of adequate and equitable federal funding for wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity on tribal lands.
Protecting wildlife migration corridors is a priority for Indigenous peoples, whose culture is imbued with respect for big game trails and the balance of ecosystems. But as we know, this work is increasingly challenging because these corridors weave in and out of federal, state and tribal lands, as well as private holdings. To protect these wildlife routes, representatives from all of these areas need to be at the table.
Historically however, tribes have been excluded from these conversations despite thousands of years of experience protecting wildlife, wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors. Wildlife is fundamental to our history and culture, and these values transcend our regional boundaries. For Indigenous communities, wildlife sustains life and provides irreplaceable resources, drives tourism and reminds us the importance of sacred and culturally significant land.
Identifying and conserving wildlife corridors is necessary to uphold and fulfill our responsibility to both our wildlife heritage and future generations. Tribes are on the forefront of collecting data and developing management practices to enhance migration corridors. In Colorado, the Southern Ute Tribe has spent the past 20 years identifying corridors between tribal and federal lands to help manage deer and elk populations.
At the Pueblo of Santa Ana outside Albuquerque, land managers have conducted extensive habitat restoration to improve the quality of available wildlife habitats on their land. Part of this work involves protecting habitat along two wildlife corridors that intersect four-lane roadways with high vehicular traffic volumes. Those highways have also become essentially an impermeable barrier to traditionally important wildlife such as pronghorn and wild turkey. Translocation of these two species across the barrier has been the only viable option for reestablishing their populations on the pueblo’s land. But without support and resources, we won’t be able to continue, let alone expand this work.
That’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass the Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act, which was recently introduced by Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. It will ensure tribes have resources to implement conservation measures to protect fish and wildlife and boost biodiversity. Beyond this, the legislation supports and bolsters cross-jurisdictional collaboration between tribal communities, states and federal agencies to ensure we manage critical wildlife habitat with a holistic and truly collaborative approach.
But this isn’t the first attempt at passing legislation aimed at safeguarding tribal wildlife. Time and time again we have called for support, equitable funding and resources that empower Native peoples to determine and bolster wildlife conservation on our lands. This time Congress must act. As we see an increase in drought, wildfire and other extreme weather events, we need investments that ensure species are better able to adapt to our changing climate and allow tribal communities to expand management strategies across larger landscapes in order to advance habitat connectivity.
We need to establish a unified front as Indigenous peoples, state and federal land managers, elected officials, private land owners and conservation groups in making sure our wildlife heritage is protected for generations to come. I call on you to join us.