Federal plan would help Oklahoma tribes manage wildlife corridors

Wildlife experts say roads make it harder for species such as this three-toed box turtle to navigate their way through habitats. (Photo Courtesy Jim Arterburn)
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On tribal lands, conservation groups often deal with uncertainty in securing federal grants to protect wildlife and are hoping Congress signs off on a plan which would commit annual funding to establish migration corridors for various species.

The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act would set aside $50 million a year for tribal nations to implement and maintain protections against development disrupting animal migration.

Shailyn Miller, wildlife connectivity coordinator for the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, said tribes are at a huge disadvantage in finding enough resources for this work.

“We can’t really go back in time and take away what’s going on with the new developments and everything,” Miller said. “But we can try to mitigate it, and we need to be doing this by investing in on-the-ground conservation efforts to restore this wildlife habitat.”

The plan also calls for coordination among federal and state agencies on tribal property rights. It is unclear if the proposal faces any opposition. It was introduced last August, and this month, the National Wildlife Federation sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to support the bill.

Local chapters, including those in Oklahoma, are also voicing their support.

Kim Winton, vice president of the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma, said unlike some other states, tribal lands in Oklahoma are less contiguous because they are broken up by private property and roads. She said the bill would provide tribes with the tools to find solutions where wildlife face obstacles in moving from one habitat to another.

“It provides a mechanism by which the tribes can identify those corridors and then, work with the federal and state agencies to preserve and maintain those corridors,” Winton explained.

Winton added it is also important the bill provides a dedicated source of funding, so tribal biologists will not have to compete as much for other federal grants.

“In Oklahoma, we have 39 tribes, and some of them have large landmasses and some of them are very small,” Winton noted. “There’s just very little funding in general out there for them. And it’s for the corridors as well as the habitat maintenance.”

The letter from wildlife advocates to Congress calls the act “vital for achieving long-term conservation goals and objectives on tribal land.” Versions are pending in both the Senate Indian Affairs and House Natural Resources committees.

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