Monday, June 22, 2020

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A key House committee has approved a package of investments in America’s infrastructure, including provisions to make U.S. roadways safer for both drivers and wildlife and to create more humane conditions for transporting horses within the country.

The INVEST in America Act package, H.R. 2, passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday by a 35 to 25 vote, and it now heads to the full House floor for consideration.

Provisions in the bill address the creation of safe passageways, including bridges and tunnels, for wildlife moving across landscapes to find food, water and shelter, adapt to changing environmental conditions, and migrate to reach breeding or wintering areas.

There is great need right now for such reform. Each year, there are an estimated 725,000 to 1.5 million wildlife-vehicle collisions in the United States. These result in more than 29,000 incidents of human injury, 200 human fatalities and over a billion dollars in property damage. Animals struck by vehicles almost always die.

Road mortality also poses a major threat to some species at risk of extinction. A Federal Highway Administration study identified 21 threatened and endangered species for whom road mortality is documented as a major survival threat, including bighorn sheep in California, red-bellied turtles in Alabama, and Key deer and panthers in Florida. There are only an estimated 120 to 230 mature-age Florida panthers left in the wild, with nearly 90% of deaths caused by collisions with vehicles.

When you count smaller vertebrate species killed in collisions, the toll for wildlife rises even more dramatically.

Creating wildlife crossings is a proven way to mitigate vehicle-wildlife collisions and habitat fragmentation, which is largely caused by human development. Such safe road crossings significantly reduce collisions and make it easier for wild animals to move between habitat areas by approximately 50% more than they can in areas not connected by such corridors. This, in turn, helps sustain biodiversity, ecosystem function and healthy wildlife populations.

The package that passed the committee will also address the safe transport of horses around the country. At present, horses may be transported in double decker trailers built for transporting smaller farm animals, such as hogs and cattle. Horses crammed in small trailers can be seriously injured because there is not enough space overhead for them to stand correctly, and transporting them this way can lead to major accidents. The package includes language from the Horse Transportation Safety Act, H.R.1400, introduced by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. and Peter King, R-N.Y., which will make it unlawful to transport horses across state lines in motor vehicles with two or more levels stacked.

These are important reforms, and we applaud the leadership of Chairman DeFazio, D-Ore., in addressing ecological and animal welfare concerns in this package investing in America’s infrastructure and job creation. These reforms for wildlife and horses are long overdue, and it’s time to get them signed into law.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.