SANTA FE _ A bill that would direct two New Mexico agencies to develop a plan to reduce the hazard that crossing wildlife poses to motorists around the state has cleared a major legislative hurdle and appears likely to reach the governor’s desk.
The full New Mexico House approved the measure Tuesday night. The Senate must now concur with minor amendments before the bill, SB228, heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her consideration.
The bill calls for putting up $500,000 from the New Mexico Department of Transportation for developing a study between the department and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The study will identify areas where wildlife crossing roadways is consistently hit by motorists. The bill also would direct the agencies to come up with ways to reduce the accidents.
The New Mexico Wildlife Federation has been a strong supporter of the legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque.
“Wild animals are not only valuable to all of the citizens of our state, but all wildlife is valuable in and of itself,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the NMWF.
“A diverse coalition of organizations who share this sentiment worked together with Sen. Stewart and made a great stride in protecting our wildlife and our motorists,” Deubel said.
Jeremy Romero, coordinator of wildlife corridors for the NMWF, said the bill’s passage is a great step for the state and the West in protecting both motorists and wildlife.
“This bill provides key framework for the inclusion of tribes and resources for better understanding the movement patterns of wildlife in our state to ensure wildlife and people can travel safely across New Mexico’s diverse landscape,” Romero said.
Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Service, called the bill a strong first step in protecting the integrity of wildlife corridors and providing a common sense solution to ensuring the safety of New Mexico’s roads.
“By creating a forward-thinking plan aimed identifying existing wildlife corridors and designing on the ground projects focused on enhancing wildlife connectivity, this bill promotes collaborative approaches that will benefit not only New Mexico’s wildlife, but also our communities,” Black said. “We strongly encourage the governor to sign this bill into law.”
The highway department and the game department have been working together in recent years to address the rising incidence of crashes on state roadways involving wildlife.
The agencies recently have cooperated on the installation of fencing along I-40 east of Albuquerque and in other areas to keep wildlife out of traffic.
Stewart has said that options for reducing crashes elsewhere in the state could include overpasses, underpasses, lighting and fencing.
Michael Dax, New Mexico outreach representative with Defenders of Wildlife, has worked closely with Stewart on the bill.
Dax has testified 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.