Growing up as a girl scout, state Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery, still remembers one of her troop’s key tenets – leave outdoor spaces better than you found them.
Living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Daley says she frequently sees deer and other animals on the road “all over the place” near her home and on her commute to her office in suburban Conshohocken, outside of Philadelphia.
“If it’s at twilight, I have to be really careful,” Daley said.
In January, Daley introduced House Resolution 670, which asks the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study and report back on the feasibility of establishing conservation corridors in Pennsylvania.
Wildlife corridors, as they are sometimes called, have been used in other states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon to mitigate wildlife’s interaction with humans, lessen the frequency of auto accidents involving animals, and to protect endangered species.
Daley hopes the proposal will help her colleagues see the potential benefits of wildlife corridors throughout the state.
“It’s not just wildlife in the west that’s important,” Daley said. “Being a Pennsylvanian, I would sometimes get jealous of Colorado and Oregon. And we can do that in Pennsylvania, too.”
Making the case for corridors
More than half of the state of Pennsylvania is covered in forests, according to the Forest Inventory Analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FIA found that 58.6 percent of Pennsylvania is forested.
However, deforestation and habitat fragmentation leave animals stranded, or needing to cross major roadways or in some cases through towns and cities to find food, water and others of their species.
While touring Elk County, home to the eastern United States’ largest elk herd, with her legislative colleagues, Daley said she learned a lot about what’s being done to protect wildlife in Pennsylvania and what more could be done.
In the northwestern Pennsylvania county, the proceeds from game licenses pay for buying property for the elk herd and other Pennsylvania wildlife, a needed measure in the wake of habitat fragmentation, and an example of why corridors would be beneficial, Daley said.
Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the highest in the nation for cases of tick-borne diseases, and car accidents involving animals.
According to data from the insurance company State Farm, Pennsylvanians are at high risk for hitting deer. With a 1 in 63 chance of an accident involving a deer, Pennsylvania ranks the third highest chance in the nation behind Montana and West Virginia.
In the wake of a global pandemic, wildlife corridors can play an important role in public health, too, Holly Zimmerman, a spokesperson for the Endangered Species Coalition, said.
Limiting the interaction of wildlife and humans as well as wildlife and domestic animals can help prevent the spread of illnesses and cut down on human-wildlife transmission of viruses such as COVID-19, Zimmerman said.
In parts of the state where wildlife corridors are already in use, such as Carbon and Chester counties, sharing insights on the return on investment and economic value of corridors is the next priority for Daley, hoping to convince her Republican colleagues to join the cause.
Daley said she believes wildlife corridors can be a “bipartisan endeavor” and hopes the “potential for positive economic impact” will hamper any doubts from GOP members of the assembly.
“All areas of the state would really benefit from a study that could provide us a lot of information,” Daley said. “In an area like ours that is still becoming more and more developed, having an oasis is really important.”
The resolution remains in the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee, where it was referred in mid-January.
The continuing COVID-19 emergency has shifted legislative priorities this year as budget and funding concerns, along with public health concerns and the start of back-to-school season weigh heavily on the commonwealth.
While Daley would love to see her resolution move for a vote this year, she won’t be dissuaded if it doesn’t happen this year.
“I’m still hopeful and still working on it,” Daley said. “It will still be important next year, if it doesn’t get passed this year.”