Across the American West, a conflict has been quietly escalating for decades, leaving thousands of people injured and millions of animals dead. But the parties in this engagement aren’t out to harm each other; they’re mostly just trying to get where they’re going.
The conflict is between motorists and wildlife, especially big game such as elk, deer, moose, and pronghorn, and it’s playing out primarily on highways and the outskirts of suburban developments—places where the animals’ centuries-old migration routes have been obstructed or cut off by roads, buildings, fences, and other structures.
Now, however, a movement is afoot to preserve—and in some cases restore—wildlife migration corridors without sacrificing development, and to do so in ways that make travel safer for people and animals alike.
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.
A diverse coalition of New Mexico conservation
organizations, sportsmen and women and public land advocates, today called for stronger protection of critical wildlife habitat, clean water and wildlife migration corridors in the Upper Rio Grande Watershed and delivered more than 23,000 public comments to the U.S. Forest Service calling for improvements to the Carson and Santa Fe National Forests’ land
Time is running out for public comment on plans that will be used to manage our national forests for years to come. In New Mexico, national forests make up millions of acres — that’s a chunk of land, important to every resident of our state.
Our Upper Río Grande watershed – which stretches from southern Colorado down through Northern New Mexico – is considered one of the best-connected wildlife migration landscapes in the country. In this region, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, migratory birds and even fish move across federal, state, tribal and private lands and waters. Such movement is necessary for the survival of many species so they can mate, find food, adapt to changing climates and maintain genetic diversity.
New Mexico’s Upper Rio Grande Watershed is home to one of the best-connected wildlife landscapes in the country. But development is fragmenting the landscape and reducing habitat – creating challenges for migrating wildlife.
Across the country, as development continues to encroach on natural areas, wildlife-vehicle collisions are taking a massive toll. More than 1.9 million animal-collision insurance claims were filed in fiscal 2019, a State Farm report found, with some researchers estimating the annual price tag of the resulting human fatalities, wildlife mortality, injuries, vehicle damage and other costs at almost $10 billion.
The National Wildlife Federation, along with its Colorado and New Mexico affiliates, Conejos Clean Water and nearly 5,000 concerned citizens, filed a formal objection to the final Rio Grande National Forest plan yesterday. The plan, which will guide land management decisions for the next two decades, fails to protect important wildlife corridors from oil and gas development and new road construction.
The Forest Service has the difficult task of balancing its management plan for a host of diverse uses, ranging from resource management, recreational use, wildlife conservation and wildfire management.
There has been a recent push by conservation groups to protect wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity by designating more portions of the National Forest as wilderness. But the discussion on how best to protect habitat has shone a light on another important component of forest management — one that’s a bit more controversial among residents: wildfire.
Whether you’re passionate about pursuing Río Grande cutthroat trout, an annual deer or elk hunt with family and friends, or you just care about the health of our forests and watersheds, you have a lot at stake in the rewriting of the Carson National Forest’s management plan.