Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said the project would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, it has been corrected to read hundreds of millions of dollars
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – State agencies are releasing their extensive plan to protect drivers and wildlife from collisions. Driving across New Mexico, it’s not uncommon to come across wildlife, and maybe even accidentally hit it. It’s something the non-profit and rehabilitation facility, the New Mexico Wildlife Center, sees a lot.
“Many of our animals that come into rehabilitation are here because of some kind of human-wildlife interaction, and many of those are because of vehicular collisions,” said Dr. Sarah Sirica, staff veterinarian at the New Mexico Wildlife Center.
State research found that from 2002-2018, nearly 700 deer, 200 elk, and 40 bears were hit by cars on average each year. Now, the state is trying to pump the brakes on those numbers. As part of the Wildlife Corridors Act signed into law in 2019, New Mexico Game and Fish and the New Mexico Department of Transportation studied, got public input, and now is releasing a nearly 800-page plan to mitigate the crashes.
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“It’s been overwhelmingly positive. People are in support of it, it doesn’t really have any political bias to it. It’s a lot of traffic safety and preserving wildlife populations,” said Matthew Haverland, Wildlife Coordinator for NMDOT.
The state focused on the movement of six species including elk, deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and mountain lion. They came up with 11 top priority projects to make it safer for animals to cross and avoid cars. Five are based on collision data and the other six are based on wildlife movement.
“Enabling various species to have better access to the groups of them that can improve genetic biodiversity over time and then that can improve the health of the population overall,” said Dr. Sirica.
The priority sites include 550 north of Cuba, US 180 and I-90 in Silver City, the I-25 Glorieta pass, and US 70 and NM 48 Ruidoso. The changes sites could see could include an overpass or underpass, or fencing to funnel animals to a safe crossing area.
“Some animals are more likely to use overpasses while some are perfectly fine using underpasses,” said Haverland. It could take years for the projects to become reality, still, the Wildlife Center said it’s a step in the right direction.
“Decreased collisions is for sure a good thing in our eyes. The only things were really disappointed with was it didn’t go quite as far with making as many sites in the short term,” said Dr. Sirica. Until the projects become a reality, officials are reminding drivers to be aware on the road and of any animals nearby.
Now that the plan is released, it’s all about funding. NMDOT and NMDGF created a new coalition to help get funding for these projects, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. To see the full plan, click here.