Bill would boost state, tribal wildlife projects

Range Program Manager Daniel Ginter talks with Senator Martin Heinrich about compost applications on the Santa Ana Pueblo on September 10. (Mike Sandoval/For the Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA ANA PUEBLO – Once absent from the pueblo land just north of Bernalillo, wild turkey and pronghorn now roam alongside elk, deer and mountain lions.

Glenn Harper, the range and wildlife division manager at Santa Ana Pueblo, said that his team’s work in the last two decades shows it is possible to reintroduce species that are important to the tribe.

“Over time, the landscape has changed, and who manages that landscape has changed,” Harper said. “But everybody needs wildlife to maintain their traditions.”

Reintroduction involved capturing the animals from other parts of New Mexico and planting additional forage.

The pueblo’s Natural Resources Department draws money from the tribal budget and federal grants.

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., would direct about $97.5 million annually to tribes like Santa Ana Pueblo and $1.3 billion to states for wildlife conservation.

Heinrich said about $28 million would go to New Mexico projects each year.

“We can continue to try to manage (a species) once it’s an emergency, once something gets listed as threatened or endangered,” he said. “Or we can make a sustainable upfront investment, and prevent those species from ever getting to a crisis in the first place.”

State wildlife agencies like New Mexico Game and Fish would administer the funds to manage “species of greatest conservation need.”

The Game and Fish wildlife action plan lists over 200 species in that category, along with ideal areas for projects that could protect them.

Some of the animals are unique to New Mexico. Others play a crucial role in their ecosystems or have lost habitat because of wildfires or water scarcity.

Existing laws have traditionally directed taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to recreational fisheries and big game restoration.

Ross Leon plants native plants in the bosque of the Santa Ana Pueblo on September 10. (Mike Sandoval/For the Albuquerque Journal)

“But there’s never been dedicated funding for all of the other wildlife,” Heinrich said. “This really opens up an ability to manage everything from bumblebees to bison.”

Monitoring wild animal populations is a major priority at Santa Ana.

The pueblo’s livestock and wildlife codes, passed in the early 2000s, help protect herds and habitat by setting grazing and hunting limits.

But nearby Interstate 25 and Highway 550 are big obstacles for wildlife, with vehicles killing hundreds of animals each year.

Harper said migration corridor projects could benefit from additional federal money.

“The closer we encroach in with urban development, the more we narrow that corridor, and we end up with a very small piece for those animals to cross,” Harper said.

The pueblo’s bosque can be an ideal habit for endangered birds like the southwestern willow flycatcher when the Rio Grande is flowing high.

Additional funds could help tribes adapt to a fluctuating river in the face of megadrought and climate change, said Nathan Schroeder, Santa Ana’s restoration division manager.

“Even trees that have their roots in the river are dying off,” Schroeder said. “That changes what we decide to plant.”

The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act bill was introduced in the Senate in mid-July, and has been referred to an environmental committee.

Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.

 

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