Highway Bill Presents Golden Opportunity to Support Conservation and Outdoor Recreation

Apr 15, 2019

By Marnee Banks, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

44 conservation groups offer input as lawmakers craft infrastructure legislation

“A paradigm shift.” That’s what 44 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups are calling for as lawmakers begin drafting infrastructure legislation.

With the current Highway Bill expiring in 2020, these organizations are asking Congress to invest in natural infrastructure, recreational access, improved permitting, and fish and wildlife habitat connectivity as lawmakers address resilient highway systems and federal roads.

“Improvements to our road systems can benefit wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access, rather than detract from them,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “And now is the perfect time for Congress to invest in lasting solutions for our fish, wildlife, and outdoor way of life. Hunters and anglers are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with lawmakers to draft legislation that takes a holistic approach to infrastructure.”

“The Association is supportive of this legislation that is offering states the opportunity to increase their conservation efforts of fish and wildlife,” said Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “The next Highway Bill will reauthorize funds that are the backbone of great fisheries management and conservation work, as well as access for boating and fishing that is provided by state fish and wildlife agencies across the country.”

“Collisions with vehicles and severed migratory movements are two key issues impacting mule deer and other big game species that need to be addressed in the next transportation bill,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “The states need dedicated funding to ensure wildlife crossings are a priority in the future and not simply a ‘nice to have’ project if extra funds are available.”

“Conservation of our lands, waters, and wildlife is essential to our economy and well-being, so decisions about how to answer challenges like our highway infrastructure should include nature-based solutions,” said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “For example, enlarging culverts to allow for increased flow of water during extreme rain events not only saves money by preventing future road and bridge damage, but also enhances wildlife and fish habitat. Solutions like these are cost-effective investments that generate impressive returns for all Americans, and we urge Congress to make those investments in the upcoming highway bill.”

“Forest roads are essential to get us to the places we like to fish, but if they’re not properly designed and maintained, they can harm fisheries by causing sedimentation and habitat fragmentation,” said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “That’s why the transportation bill and programs like Legacy Roads and Trails are so important to anglers. National forests provide some of our best trout habitat, and Legacy Roads and Trails has provided funds that can be leveraged with other sources to right-size our road system and reconnect hundreds of miles of trout streams.”

“Transportation infrastructure on the National Wildlife Refuge System, including roads, trails, and bridges, is critical to providing the American people with safe access to their public lands and waters,” said Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The 2020 Transportation Bill’s inclusion of funding for the Refuge System to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure is critical to the 53 million annual refuge visitors and their recreational needs. Creating proper wildlife crossings and signage will also protect people and wildlife from vehicular collisions.”

“We welcome Congress’s steadfast commitment to passing a robust highway reauthorization bill in 2020 and encourage them to seize the opportunity by including a ‘Recreation Title’ in a comprehensive infrastructure package this year,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Outdoor recreation is a significant part of the U.S. economy—contributing 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP and supporting 4.5 million American jobs—and it behooves lawmakers to put our industry front and center in any infrastructure-related debate.”

“Conservation lands—and the stewards of those lands—are impacted by transportation and public works projects in profound and often overlooked ways,” said Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “We appreciate the attention of our conservation partners and leaders in Congress to address such issues as promoting nature-based, resilient transportation systems and taking a needs-based assessment to funding road maintenance for our national forests and other lands.”

“As we continue to learn more about big game migration corridors and related barriers, it is imperative that we better integrate infrastructure planning with our wildlife connectivity needs,” said Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer of the Archery Trade Association. “We are very excited to see improved integration efforts manifest themselves through these ongoing efforts.”

“Transportation systems are important in many ways to our human qualities of life, as are the natural landscapes through which these corridors occur,” said Tom Logan, chairman of the Board for Fly Fishers International. “Both values can only be assured, though, if future transportation planning considers the biological function and value of the nation’s land, water, fish, and wildlife. The 2020 transportation bill provides an excellent opportunity to establish smart environmental planning as the standard for protecting our public lands and waters, while maintaining our nation’s transportation systems.”

“Lack of habitat connectivity and water quality are two of the largest problems impacting fish species right now, and this includes popular recreational species and imperiled species alike,” said Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “However, small investments in better road design can pay big dividends for both fish and people by providing better flood prevention, reconnected stream habitats, and improved durability for extreme weather events, especially for road-stream crossings.”

The groups’ letter to Senate lawmakers can be found HERE.