The U.S. Senate today passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The wide-ranging legislation includes vital funding for wildlife crossings, habitat improvements, native vegetation and invasive species management. However, it also includes problematic language relating to forestry and environmental reviews and does not include some proactive wildlife management provisions that passed in the House’s June infrastructure bill.
“In the midst of the ongoing biodiversity crisis, it is imperative that we heavily invest in wildlife protections in the nation’s waters, lands and skies. We thank the Senate for passing a bipartisan bill that would fund much-needed wildlife infrastructure projects that will protect biodiversity, increase public safety and create local jobs. We look forward to working with the Biden administration to prioritize funding to ensure the best outcomes for wildlife and habitat,” said Robert Dewey, vice president for government relations, Defenders of Wildlife.
1 trillion dollars, the package marks one of the largest infrastructure investments in the nation’s history. The final legislation garnered significant bipartisan support from Senators, and from President Biden, who made infrastructure one of his top priorities in the American Jobs Plan. The legislation builds off bipartisan proposals from multiple Senate Committees, including the Environment and Public Works Committee’s $350 million Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program.
“The bill is a victory for wildlife crossings across the country. Development, habitat fragmentation and wildlife-vehicle collisions devastate the populations of several iconic species like the Florida panther, ocelot, monarch butterfly and desert tortoise. Crossing structures are a true win-win-win, as they protect biodiversity, increase public safety and create local jobs,” said Dewey.
The bill includes critically important provisions for habitat and wildlife:
- Habitat connectivity and the movement of native species are essential for ecosystem resilience. The legislation invests $350 million in a new Wildlife Crossings Program. The program would send grants to states, tribes, local communities, federal agencies, and others to construct crossings and improve habitat connectivity and crossings like wildlife-friendly highway overpasses.
- Our outdated infrastructure was not built to withstand extreme weather associated with the climate crisis. Flooding from increasingly severe and frequent storms can wipe out roads, bridges and stream underpasses, which can have disastrous effects on communities, water quality and wildlife. This bill would allocate $1.25 billion to the Legacy Roads and Trails program (LRT), which has already fixed over 1,000 culverts and would enable the Forest Service to restore hundreds of miles of aquatic habitat. The program would likely create thousands of contractor jobs in rural communities and enable better recreational access to national forests.
- Native vegetation is a major component of building resilient landscapes and restoring ecosystems. The bill includes $200 million to establish and implement a national revegetation effort on Federal and non-Federal land, including to implement the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration.
- Early detection and rapid response to invasive species are critical to the resilience and health of the country’s land and waters. The legislation provides the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture $100 million each to conduct invasive species detection, research, prevention and eradication.
- Use of planned, prescribed fire is essential to restoring forest ecosystem resiliency and habitat for wildlife. The bill directs $500 million to the Interior and Agriculture Departments to plan and conduct prescribed burning
With the passage of this historic package in the Senate, the House of Representatives is expected to take up the legislative text soon. The Senate missed the opportunity to add the things that the House passed —such as $75 million per year for wildlife corridors and the establishment of Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge.
While there were many positive wildlife investments in the final bill, the package included multiple provisions that could limit environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and interfere with judicial review. Defenders is concerned that several forest management provisions, and ecosystem restoration provisions could lead to harmful impacts to wildlife and other resources. The provisions in the bill would truncate agency decision-making processes, lack the specificity necessary to ensure that projects are ecologically and scientifically sound, and fail to invest in core capacity that allows agencies to do this important work.
To that end, many of the funds in the legislation will require strong prioritization and implementation plans. Among the billions of dollars for conservation, many of the new programs came with relatively few requirements on how to spend funds most responsibly. Defenders is also concerned that the final bill overemphasizes investments in dams and other water storage projects that could harm salmon and other wildlife.
Defenders looks forward to working with the Biden administration to ensure that investments in natural resource infrastructure programs lead to positive outcomes for America’s at-risk wildlife. Likewise, both chambers of Congress will have another opportunity to address the biodiversity crisis and habitat conservation in the upcoming budget reconciliation package.