New bill would scale up voluntary, locally-led big game conservation on working lands

The Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act would build on pilot Migratory Big Game Initiative WLA helped initiate in Wyoming.

Santa Fe, NM — Today, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Congressmen Ryan Zinke (R-Mont) and Gabriel Vasquez (D-N.M.) introduced the Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act. This bill would support and expand voluntary efforts to improve wildlife habitat, including big game habitat, on private and working lands.  

Building on the success of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Migratory Big Game Initiative in Wyoming, the bill would allow the USDA to leverage unique cost-share, technical assistance, and payments provided under the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (GCRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the benefit of wildlife and agricultural producers. These common-sense improvements remove administrative barriers that limit both the conservation outcomes and relevance to producers working to conserve important fish and wildlife habitat on private land.

“The farms and ranches of the West provide much of the essential habitat that wildlife need to survive. Most landowners care deeply about wildlife and yet the costs associated with supporting wildlife can jeopardize their ability to stay in business,“ Western Landowners Alliance CEO Lesli Allison said. “As more and more land is developed, the pressure is increasing on the remaining intact private lands to provide food and shelter for many different species. The bipartisan Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act ensures ranchers and farmers have access to the full suite of tools and resources to conserve and steward these lands for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

This legislation will help USDA prioritize the creation and maintenance of wildlife habitat connectivity and wildlife migration corridors through their conservation programs. It will also make it easier for agricultural producers to participate in programs that benefit wildlife migrations and habitat connectivity. Additionally, the legislation makes virtual fencing eligible for USDA research and extension grants, encouraging research on the benefits of virtual fencing. Conventional fencing across the West results in wildlife entanglement, which is often lethal. 

“Protecting and expanding wildlife corridors requires all of us to be at the table and that includes farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers. The bipartisan Habitat Connectivity on Working Lands Act protects and expands the movement of wildlife while supporting the stewards of our working lands. We must find balance where both can thrive, and my bill does just that,” said Vasquez. “I thank Senator Heinrich and Representative Zinke for joining me in introducing this bill that will benefit New Mexicans and Montanans, and will spur the healthy movement and migration of wildlife across the West.”

“Some of our most iconic North American big game traverse thousands of miles on their migration routes every year. As Secretary I signed a secretarial order establishing a federal-state-private sector partnership to maintain wildlife access to corridors. This bill takes it a step further, working directly with farmers to protect migration corridors during migration seasons while respecting private property rights,” Zinke said.“We all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not, that’s dependent upon natural features like water, terrain and vegetation, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM, state, or private landowners. Farmers and ranchers are some of the best conservationists I know. Few are more reliant on a healthy landscape than our producers and growers. I appreciate Congressman Vasquez working with me again to prove that some issues are above red or blue, and are just red white and blue.” 

“Private landowners and agricultural producers in New Mexico and across the West play a key role in our effort to increase habitat connectivity and improve wildlife migration,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Representatives Vasquez and Zinke to invest in proven USDA conservation practices and encourage land stewards to embrace new tools like virtual fencing to help us protect iconic big game species like pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk, and mule deer.” 

For more information on the Migratory Big Game Initiative and habitat leasing, please visit:


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join WLA to stay up to date on the most important news and policy for land stewards.

Become a member for free today and we will send you the news and policy developments critical to the economic and ecological health of working lands.

WLA works on behalf of landowners and practitioners throughout the West. We will never share your contact information with anyone.

©2023 Western Landowners Alliance • PO BOX 27798, Denver, CO 80227 • 505.466.1495 • Privacy Policy