Kudos to N.M. wildlife and transportation officials for converting a sizable data-gathering project into a report that should mean safer roads for drivers and big game alike.
The study, the result of legislation crafted by Albuquerque Democrats Sen. Mimi Stewart and Rep. Georgene Louis, and signed into law three years ago by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, creates a Wildlife Corridors Action Plan. Researchers crunched decades of crash data in the state and isolated collisions with wildlife; they also used radio-collar data to track movement of big game herds to pinpoint major wildlife corridors.
Drilling down to collision hotspots will help the state install workable preventative measures – from fencing to over/underpasses – to limit crashes and save lives.
That’s important. The study found that every year an average of 634 drivers hit a deer in the Land of Enchantment; 169 hit an elk; dozens of others hit bears, cougars and bighorn sheep. In 2019 there was an estimated $11 million in property damage and injuries.
And there is a track record for mitigation projects. The two agencies have completed 10 safe wildlife passages in the past 20 years in northern and central New Mexico. The 713-page draft report issued last week lists 11 new priority projects across every highway department district, ranging in cost from $17 million to $50 million each.
The recently passed federal infrastructure package includes $350 million in competitive grant funds to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. Game and Fish has also requested a $9 million special appropriation from the Legislature to leverage project funds from the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, a federal bill awaiting a hearing in Congress.
Having extensive research and concrete plans to pair with federal and state dollars is a welcome change of pace. Saving lives and preserving economically significant wildlife resources is always a good idea – but much easier to champion with good data and available funding.