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Crossing to Safety Endangers Animals, People

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022   

A Wildlife Corridors Action Plan for New Mexico identifies 11 priority "safe passage" projects, such as underpasses and overpasses, to improve driver safety and connect more natural habitat for the state's native wildlife.

Garrett Vene Klasen, director of northern conservation for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said the state has a high number of hot spots for wildlife-vehicle collisions, partly because climate change continues to compromise historic wildlife habitats.

"We're seeing all animals having to travel further for dependable food and water," he said. "Elk, deer and other wildlife are being drawn into urban areas because of food availability."

The Wildlife Corridors Action Plan is a joint project of the New Mexico Departments of Transportation and Game and Fish. Public comments about the plan are being taken through March 12. The draft and instructions for how to comment are online at wildlifeactionplan.nmdotprojects.org.

Vene Klasen admitted that the infrastructure needed is expensive, but said so is the damage to vehicles when they hit large animals - and the cost of human life can't be measured.

"I hit an elk last winter on my way to Taos, N.M., and it's a 600-pound animal - and it could have killed me," he said. "So, we need to create safe passage and corridors for them to move back and forth."

The New Mexico Legislature's current 30-day session is primarily devoted to budget issues. Vene Klasen said he believes the state should use its budget surplus to address the recommended projects identified in the report.

"We need to designate significant sums of money annually to address this really, really growing problem," he said. "This should be a priority of our legislators and the governor. This is serious stuff."

The federal Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package signed into law last November.

Disclosure: The Pew Charitable Trusts - Environmental Group contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Climate Change/Air Quality, Consumer Issues, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Health Issues, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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