Wildlife corridors bill would protect motorists, wildlife

March 5, 2019

As the New Mexico legislative session enters the home stretch, it’s critical that one particular bill not get lost in the shuffle: Senate Bill 228, the Wildlife Corridors Act sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.

Stewart’s bill would direct the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the State Transportation Department to come up with a list by January identifying roadways around the state where big game animals are commonly getting hit by vehicles. The bill would appropriate $100,000 from the state’s Game Protection Fund to cover the cost of compiling the list. The bill would require the agencies to list projects such as fencing, light installation or even construction of overpasses or underpasses that could improve public safety by reducing the odds of motorists slamming into wildlife.

The list, which would be updated annually, would prioritize projects on the basis of their potential to improve public safety, the benefit to wildlife, cost and local support. Projects wouldn’t affect private lands unless landowners opted to participate voluntarily.

The need to identify and protect wildlife corridors becomes more urgent every year. This bill would improve public safety while also helping New Mexico’s wildlife.

Stewart’s bill passed the Senate and is pending in the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. In committee testimony on the bill so far, Stewart has emphasized that Game and Fish and the Transportation Department have been cooperating in recent years to address the rising incidence of crashes involving wildlife. She has pointed to the installation of fencing along I-40 east of Albuquerque and in other areas to keep wildlife out of traffic.

Michael Dax with Defenders of Wildlife has been working with Stewart on the bill. Dax said recently that the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife in the state increased from roughly 1,200 in 2013 to roughly 1,600 in 2016. He said drought and other factors that stress wildlife are to blame.

“There’s a huge wildlife conservation benefit to this, but there’s also a huge public safety benefit to this,” Dax said at a recent committee hearing. The New Mexico Wildlife Federation urges people to contact their lawmakers and urge support for Senate Bill 228.

Jesse Duebel is executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. He lives in Albuquerque.