Wildlife, and especially big game, need open spaces to feed, breed, and migrate to and from their seasonal habitats. Those spaces are increasingly squeezed by new development and roads that constrict animal movement and increase the likelihood of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Now, armed with reams of new data about those movements, states are making strides in conserving wildlife migration routes and other important habitat while improving driver safety. For example, New Mexico issued a draft plan in January that represents a new high-water mark for states in developing science-based policy for conserving wildlife corridors and reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions, in part through the construction of over- and underpasses specifically for animals.
The Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, open for public comment through March 12, is the first in the country to tackle wildlife habitat and driver safety concerns holistically, rather than as separate issues. Pew submitted comments as the draft plan was being developed that supported this integrated approach, and now applauds the result.
The draft plan stems from first-of-its-kind legislation passed in 2019 and championed by state Senator Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo County). The Wildlife Corridors Act directs the state Department of Transportation (NMDOT) and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to work together to prioritize wildlife-vehicle collision hot spots and critical wildlife corridors for the purposes of improving driver safety and maintaining habitat connectivity for elk, deer, black bear, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and mountain lion. The law directs the agencies to seek input from the public, tribal governments, and other stakeholders as they develop the plan. NMDOT allocated $500,000 for drafting the plan, an effort that was led by Dr. Patricia Cramer, an expert on how roads affect wildlife habitats.
At more than 700 pages, the draft plan represents one of the most in-depth studies of its kind in the country, as it generated two categories of priorities for new wildlife crossing infrastructure—one that considered wildlife-vehicle accident hot spots and one that analyzed and modeled ecological habitat connectivity for six focal species. Each priority area was verified by experts and run through a cost-benefit analysis; the final priorities include five projects based primarily on collision frequencies and six projects based mainly on their importance as wildlife corridors.
Top Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Hot Spots in New Mexico
- A 17-mile stretch of U.S. Route 550, north of Cuba
- The intersection of U.S. Route 180 and New Mexico Route 90, then east on Route 180 through Silver City and Santa Clara and south through Bayard
- A 14-mile curved section of U.S. Route 70 east and west of Ruidoso, and a 17-mile stretch of New Mexico Route 48 north from its intersection with U.S. Route 70
- A 3-mile stretch of Interstate 25 at Glorieta Pass, southeast of Santa Fe
- A 5-mile stretch of U.S. Route 70 in the Bent Sacramento Mountains in south-central New Mexico
Road Sections That Bisect the State's Ecologically Important Wildlife Corridors
- U.S. Route 64 and U.S. Route 84 interrupt the Chama wildlife corridor in northern New Mexico.
- U.S. Route 285 vertically cuts through the 25-mile-long Del Norte wildlife corridor in Taos and Rio Arriba counties within the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.
- Interstate 25, U.S. Route 64, and New Mexico Route 505 all border the Pronghorn Triangle wildlife corridor between Raton and Maxwell in northeastern New Mexico.
- Interstate 10 bisects the Steins wildlife corridor within the Peloncillo Mountains near the town of Steins, just east of the Arizona border.
- I-25 and U.S. Route 550 disrupt a wildlife corridor through the Sandia and Jemez Mountains just east of Albuquerque
- New Mexico Route 38 from Questa to Red River, which bisects the Questa wildlife corridor
To implement the plan, the New Mexico state Legislature appropriated $2 million for design and construction of wildlife crossings as part of its annual budgeting process that concluded on Feb. 16. This action, combined with the 2021 enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—which includes several new funding streams for wildlife crossings—gives the state a leg up in moving forward with projects.
The plan and its initial funding will help New Mexico, which currently has 10 dedicated wildlife crossings, catch up with neighboring states that have more. Utah has built more than 50 such structures, Colorado has 64, and Arizona has at least 40.
Pew applauds state lawmakers and officials for the work that led to the draft Wildlife Corridors Action Plan and the vision to make the Land of Enchantment safer for wildlife populations and drivers for years to come.
Matt Skroch is a project director and David Ellenberger is a senior associate with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. public lands and rivers conservation team.