ALBUQUERQUE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill Thursday to create a wildlife crossing fund.
The legislation, SB 72, introduced by Sen. Mimi Stewart, will create a wildlife corridor fund and invest $5 million in state funding that would help decrease wildlife-vehicle collisions. In New Mexico, there are roughly 1,200 crashes a year reported to law enforcement, costing drivers nearly $20 million in vehicle damage, emergency response, and hospital bills. This does not include costs associated with missed work and lost wildlife and is expected to be underreported.
The groups applauding the legislation include New Mexico Wildlife Federation, New Mexico Wild, Native Land Institute, Santa Fe Conservation Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), Wildlands Network, among others.
The signing of SB 72 coincides with the implementation of the federal Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program ($350 million over 5 years), which was included in the bipartisan infrastructure package that President Biden signed into law in November 2021. New Mexico can now invest in much-needed funding toward developing these life-saving projects and setting aside state matching dollars to maximize available federal grant opportunities.
Bryan Bird, Southwest program director with Defenders of Wildlife, said “Senator Stewart is a leader and visionary on the issue of highway safety and wildlife passage in New Mexico. Funding critical infrastructure to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions will help our state meet its conservation goals by making it easier for wildlife to move between connected habitats. These infrastructure enhancements will only grow in importance as species adapt to climate change by expanding their historical ranges in search of diminishing resources.”
New Mexico wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots identified in numerous locations across the state:
- U.S. 550 North of Cuba;
- U.S. 180 and NM 90 near Silver City;
- U.S. 70 and NM 48 in Ruidoso;
- I-25 on Glorieta Pass; and
U.S. 70 in the Bent Sacramento Mountains.
The cost of building wildlife crossings varies by site and other factors and can range from $250,000 to $600,000 for a large mammal underpass to perhaps $7 million for a double span overpass. Yet, research has found that these life-saving structures pay for themselves in a relatively short amount of time, as they can reduce collisions with wildlife by up to 92%.
“This bill is kind-of a next step to the Wildlife Corridors Action Plan, which was prioritized and developed via the groundbreaking Wildlife Corridors Act of 2019,” said Jeremy Romero, regional connectivity director, National Wildlife Federation. “This is the most critical step, because without the funding, we can’t accomplish these important and life-saving projects.”
“The creation of the Wildlife Corridor Fund is a key step forward in addressing the issues of saving the lives of humans and wildlife alike. We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the legislature to drastically ramp up the funding for crucial infrastructure in the minimum of 11 hotspot areas of critical need.” said Garrett VeneKlasen, Northern Conservation Director, New Mexico Wild “We thank Senator Mimi Stewart for her leadership and the Governor for signing this landmark legislation.”
SB 72, as originally introduced by Sen. Stewart included a $50 million appropriation that would help attract federal matching dollars as funding needs were estimated at around $388 million to address the eleven priority areas identified in the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s Wildlife Corridor Action Plan back in early 2022.
Advocates are hopeful that more funding will be added to the newly created fund in coming years.