By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Update 11/15/21: President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure package into law. The infrastructure bill included $350 million dollars for wildlife crossings, which is a huge victory for wildlife and people! This critical funding will go towards creating wildlife bridges across busy interstates, to facilitate animal migration and to connect the habitats of keystone predators. These passageways will also help to prevent vehicle-wildlife collisions. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to create these life-saving wildlife crossings.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the $1 trillion infrastructure package, which includes funding for a vast array of public works. Included in this massive bill are some hugely important steps for animals, as well as some opportunities for us to push to strengthen the language of the final bill to make a world of difference for animals.
Preventing deaths of animals along U.S. roads
Vehicle collisions kill more than one million large animals each year on U.S. roads—that’s roughly one large animal every 26 seconds, and that’s not counting smaller mammals and scavengers like birds who are struck. Reported collisions between motorists and wildlife are the cause of over 200 human fatalities and more than 26,000 injuries each year, at an annual cost of more than $8 billion in damages. Research studies show that wildlife crossing structures and fencing designed to facilitate the passage of animals over or under our highways are highly effective, reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions by as much as 97%.
The infrastructure bill includes $350 million in funding for a new pilot grant program for wildlife road crossing projects and strategies that aim to reduce the deaths of animals on America’s roadways and restore and maintain connectivity between habitats. This will also help to safeguard biodiversity and mitigate climate impacts by helping to restore migration routes that have been disrupted by roadways. The provisions also call for further study of methods to reduce collisions between motorists and wildlife, including directives on workforce and technical training initiatives that target the challenges of maintaining habitat connectivity and safe passage.
The package will also give an immediate boost to state and tribal initiatives to mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions. In recent years, nine states have enacted habitat connectivity legislation and an additional six have introduced legislation and/or issued executive orders to protect wildlife corridors. Many Tribal Nations have also been working to protect wildlife movement on their lands. But funding to implement these efforts has been inadequate, and this federal commitment promises to make quite a difference.
Unfortunately, the Senate package did not include the establishment of a national wildlife corridors system—language that was included in the House version. This would improve wildlife habitat connectivity even further through a national system of protected habitat and migration corridors on participating federal, state, tribal and non-public lands.
Nonetheless, what was included in the bill would be significant progress for wildlife protection, and we’re excited at the thought that it could soon become law. And we will continue to fight to ensure that it does.
Stopping the slaughter of American horses
We have been fighting for years to end the slaughter of American horses for the global horse meat trade. We’ve lobbied against it, litigated to stop it and worked tirelessly here and abroad to bring it to an end. When the opportunity to address horse slaughter cruelties through the transportation infrastructure packages surfaced, we went all out.
In the U.S. House, we worked closely with primary sponsor Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., and the many cosponsors from both sides of the aisle to strengthen his proposal and ensure its passage. Carter’s measure, which was ultimately included in the House’s surface transportation bill (the INVEST in America Act), would prohibit the transport of America’s equines to slaughter for human consumption, effectively placing a permanent ban on their slaughter both here and abroad. For the first time in 15 years, the U.S. House passed a measure to end horse slaughter, and we’re determined to see it become law.
Despite our working tirelessly with Senate partners, the Senate infrastructure package did not incorporate this horse slaughter language. However, there’s still an opportunity to bring this language into the final bill. The House is anticipated to take up the Senate’s version of the infrastructure package this fall and is expected to negotiate on the inclusion of the INVEST in America Act, which again included language both to end the transport of horses to slaughter and to establish a national wildlife corridors system. We will continue our efforts to ensure that animal welfare remains in the dialogue with the goal of seeing all these critical measures pass into law.
How you can help
It would be impossible to overstate the value of constituent pressure on elected officials in keeping measures like these alive and intact in the infrastructure package, and that’s where you come in. We’re proud of what we—that’s you and us—did to make these gains possible. We rely on your personal commitment to help us put animal welfare on the agenda and keep it there. We’ve proved it in this case, and together, we’ll continue to do so in the future.
We have advocated for such issues for many years and are so close to success. You can take action for animals by urging your U.S. congressional representative to include language in the infrastructure package that will end the transport of horses to slaughter for human consumption and to include the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.