PICT Deer Underpass - CPW

New Mexico lawmakers weigh next step for wildlife crossings 

Roz Brown

(New Mexico News Connection) Reducing the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions is the goal of a bill before the New Mexico Legislature this session.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, is a co-sponsor, after steering passage of the New Mexico Wildlife Corridors Act in 2019. Stewart said residential and commercial development combined with climate change have fragmented wildlife habitat, forcing animals to cross roads with heavy traffic in some areas.

"So, it's about a $20 million problem, between health and car accidents," Stewart pointed out. "It's hard to put a price on killing wildlife."

Eddy, Lincoln and Otero counties have been identified as having some of the most dangerous highways in the state for local wildlife, frequently killed by motorists. State data also shows between 2002 and 2018, more than 11,000 deer were involved in crashes, or about 671 each year. 

The state's 2022 Wildlife Corridors Action Plan identified 11 safe-passage projects to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and restore habitat connectivity.

Jeremy Romero, regional connectivity director for the National Wildlife Federation, said the measure would create a $50 million dedicated fund to support implementation. 

"Really, this bill is kind-of a next step to the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, which was prioritized and developed via the first piece of legislation," Romero explained. "This is the most critical step, because without the funding, we can't accomplish these projects."

While expensive, Romero argued wildlife crossings can be an effective solution.

"I have a lot of friends and family that have hit wildlife in various different capacities, some having a little bit more damage than others," Romero noted. "You hear about it all the time, and it's a big issue not only across New Mexico, but the country."

He added it is estimated completing all 11 of the safe-passage projects would cost about $350 million.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.