Published in the Reno Journal on 1/23/2020
As a native Nevadan, there’s nothing I love more than to get out and enjoy our state’s natural beauty. Nevada is filled with extraordinary natural resources, landscapes and wildlife for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy and admire. Nevadans love to play outside — hunting, fishing, hiking and biking and these activities bolster a multibillion-dollar outdoor recreation economy. That industry is reliant on wildlife and the land they depend on for habitat, but that land faces many threats. It is time for Nevada to create a comprehensive state plan to maintain, enhance and restore wildlife habitat before we lose our wildlife heritage.
Despite the abundance of open space, our wildlife are dying. Nevada ranks third among all states for having the highest percentage of species at risk. The top issue facing Nevada’s wildlife today? Loss of habitat. Wildfires, unmanaged development and even our roads and highways sever historic migration corridors. Science shows that some amazing animals, like mule deer for example, follow the same historic, narrow “migration corridor” for 150 miles or more! With careful planning and collaboration with local landowners, the state can help avoid most impacts to wildlife populations.
A wild mule deer at the base of the Sierra Nevada. (Photo: Jason Doiy, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The good news is that Nevada’s Department of Transportation and the Department of Wildlife are working together to tackle habitat fragmentation due to transportation networks. They built the state’s first animal crossing overpass in 2010, have constructed many more crossing and underpass structures across the state. These have been tremendously successful. One overpass in northeastern Nevada boasts over 37,000 successful mule deer crossings. These structures need to continue to be a part of any infrastructure growth plan in the state. Our roadways intersect with wildlife and their habitat and it is our responsibility to increase driver safety and decrease our impact on the natural surroundings.
While we've had some successes addressing the threat of roads and highways to wildlife, the state should take a broader look at the needs of wildlife — habitat, migration routes and the impacts to both. With careful planning, Nevadans could maintain the health of our most iconic species, like mule deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn. And in turn, we will protect the recreational pursuits of Nevadans and the economic benefits that brings to our state.
Other western states are already adopting state policies that maintain and restore wildlife and their habitat. In March, New Mexico enacted the Wildlife Corridors Act which led to the creation of a Wildlife Corridors Action Plan that will identify barriers to wildlife movement and make recommendations to mitigate them. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order in August directing state agencies to work together to address habitat fragmentation and loss. These policies will help these states better understand and maintain wildlife, their movement and their habitat.
Nevada must continue to make strides to maintain, enhance and restore our wildlife. Doing so will ensure that many future generations will have the same opportunities my family have had to enjoy our state’s natural resources.
Christopher Mero (Photo: Provided by Christopher Mero)
Chris Mero is an avid hunter and angler in Nevada, and chapter board member for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers - Nevada Chapter.