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Why wildlife corridors matter to us

What a blessing it is to live in a state so defined by its landscapes and ecology. In a world where human populations are increasingly distancing themselves from nature, there is a profound comfort living with bear, elk, deer, bobcats and bighorn sheep as neighbors; where watching rainstorms crashing into the mountains are late-summer fixtures as much as back-to-school prep.

In some ways, seeing wildlife from our backyards can make it hard to believe there are crises knocking at our state’s front door. The U.N.’s dire prediction that one million species are at risk of extinction unfortunately includes many native to the West. The deep connections that our states’ cultures have to these threatened species makes this knowledge resonate more to us than people living elsewhere, but they also mean that New Mexico and the rest of the West is positioned to lead the way in protecting them.

Most New Mexicans understand that the endangerment of wildlife poses dangers for us, as well. Wildlife provide many life-sustaining functions, including pollinating crops and mitigating the impacts of natural disasters on both urban and rural communities. They help keep our air and water clean, and the overall ecosystems in balance – the way it has been for millennia.

The biggest threats facing wildlife today are changes in land use. As wildlife habitat is fragmented by human populations, and as development encroaches, it becomes more difficult for species to access crucial breeding or feeding grounds. Even in places like New Mexico, we can see negative impacts on the horizon. It seems like, every year, more animals are hit crossing a road or highway as they migrate through unknown territory to access food, water, safety or mates, and every time a road is built or new developments are constructed, the risks increase.

The places that animals move through to access these resources are often called “corridors” and now, more than ever, they must be protected. The good news is that efforts in New Mexico are already underway, and have been for years. The recent passage of the Wildlife Corridors Act, in particular, has positioned our state to be a national leader on this issue.

The success of the Act, which took leadership from St. Rep. Mimi Stewart, Gov. Lujan Grisham and a groundswell of support from citizens, has spurred action from cities and counties throughout New Mexico and collaborations with neighboring states, including Colorado. A federal bill, sponsored by U.S. Senator Tom Udall, would take this effort one step further by directing the federal government to work with state and local entities to develop wildlife corridors here and across the nation.

There is strength in connection. Wildlife populations are made stronger by their connections to other members of the same species, and ecosystems are strengthened by their relationships to the species moving through them. Likewise, the people and cultures of New Mexico are made stronger by their connections to its iconic wildlife species. What would our state be without trout, elk, sheep, or deer?

It can be easy, in the face of bad news, to disconnect ourselves from these challenges, but I urge New Mexicans, and all those who care about our planet and its overall health, to get involved. We must continue to speak out for wildlife, and for us, to make the promise of protecting New Mexico’s wildlife a reality.

Jordan Smith, of Santa Fe, is executive director of CAVU (Climate Advocates Voces Unidas).

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