One year ago, the New Mexico legislature did something that no other state in the country has done. Lawmakers passed the first-of-its-kind wildlife migration corridors protection act and they did so with bipartisan support. The Wildlife Corridors Act directs the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico Department of Transportation to create an action plan using the best available science to identify wildlife-vehicle collision hot spots on New Mexico roadways. It also calls for gathering more information about wildlife habitat and migration routes for such species as Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and pronghorn, to name a few.
One of New Mexico’s greatest strengths is that we are made up of many diverse communities, iconic landscapes that span various ecosystems and wildlife of many different species. With many rural communities spread throughout the state, there is hardly a place that you can travel where you do not find yourself interacting with wildlife or wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, these interactions can too often involve vehicle collisions with wildlife – sometimes with deadly consequences.
Recognizing we live in a unique place where wildlife and humans interact daily, we must take steps to minimize these harmful interactions. In the past, the state has taken some initial steps to protect both the traveling public and wildlife. Wildlife underpasses and fencing have helped make areas such as Tijeras Canyon, U.S. 550 near Cuba and Interstate 25 near Raton much safer for humans and wildlife alike. Passage of the Wildlife Corridors Act will allow state agencies to do much more across the state.
As New Mexicans, we value our wide open spaces and our robust wildlife populations. As stewards and managers of the land, we have to take the proper steps to protect the land, water and wildlife, while also considering the needs of the people who use these lands. Wildlife and wildlife habitat have been under increasing pressure from development and climate change, which is affecting migration patterns.
The Wildlife Corridors Action Plan will help gather data about these changes. The plan also has a key component that allows for public input and involvement during the process. Making sure communities that rely on the land, water and wildlife of New Mexico have the opportunity to be a part of process is critical to maintaining transparency and collaboration, while also preserving traditions and values that many rural and local communities and economies depend on.
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and New Mexico Department of Transportation will be conducting a series of public meetings that are focused on providing the public and interested stakeholders an opportunity to learn about the early stages of the action plan and why it is important. To learn more about these meetings and the plan, please visit the Department of Transportation website or follow this link: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/event/public-meetings-new-mexico-wildlife-corridors-action-plan.
I hope you will consider attending one of these meetings so your voice can be heard on this very important topic.
Jeremy Romero of Santa Fe is regional connectivity coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.