New Mexico's Wildlife Corridors Act: Protecting wildlife migration through state legislation

Organizer
Michael Dax, Defenders of Wildlife
Date From
Date To

Panel

  • Phil Carter, Wildlands Network
  • Mark Watson, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
  • James Hirsch, New Mexico Department of Transportation
  • Michael Dax, Defenders of Wildlife

Overview

This spring, the New Mexico legislature passed Senate Bill 228, the Wildlife Corridors Act, becoming the first state to enact legislation of its kind. Per the bill, New Mexico's Department of Transportation and Game and Fish will work together to compile a statewide Wildlife Corridors Action Plan that will identify existing migration routes and places where New Mexico highways or other developments have impeded wildlife movement along with projections of how drought and other effects of climate change may impact the daily and seasonal movement of wildlife. Additionally, the plan will include a list of priority roadway infrastructure projects such as fencing, underpasses and overpasses that will help protect both wildlife and the traveling public. Although an initial plan will be due after a year, the Action Plan will be a living document that will be updated as new research and data become available and how wildlife are using the landscape across the state. The effort to pass the bill brought together the Departments of Transportation and Game and Fish along with environmental and sportsmen organizations, private landowner groups and tribes. Throughout the process, there were a number of in-depth conversations about how to shape this process while balancing the safety of the traveling public versus the broader landscape, species of concern versus large mammals like elk, deer and pronghorn, as well as ensuring involvement by tribes and private landowners. This panel will feature the bill's sponsor, Senator Mimi Stewart, along with representatives from New Mexico Game and Fish, the Department of Transportation, Defenders of Wildlife and Wildlands Network.

As the wildlife policy coordinator for the southwest region of the U.S., Phil Carter coordinates policy reform and public engagement for wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity within New Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. through partnerships with state, federal, and tribal policymakers and stakeholder groups. He also works to advance wildlife and habitat conservation initiatives at the state level.

Mark Watson is a biologist and habitat specialist with the Ecological and Environmental Planning Division of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.  Mark has worked for the Department for 22 years.  Duties include assessing project impacts to wildlife and habitats, and working with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to implement wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation projects such as the Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Project.  Mark received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of New Mexico in biology, with emphases in ecology and zoology.

James Hirsch is an Environmental Scientist with New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), and has been involved with wildlife-vehicle collision and wildlife passage issues throughout New Mexico.  He is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and has experience in habitat mitigation and enhancement, natural resource impact assessment, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis.  He currently ensures environmental compliance and provides NEPA oversight for highway improvement and maintenance projects within NMDOT District 4 (covering northeast New Mexico).  Jim holds an M.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology from Michigan State University and a B.S. in Forest Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Michael Dax is the New Mexico Representative for Defenders of Wildlife in Santa Fe. Before moving to New Mexico, he worked in Grand Canyon and in Yellowstone National Parks as a trail groom and tour guide. Michael earned a master's degree in environmental history from the University of Montana where he began work on his book, Grizzly West, which focuses on the attempt to reintroduce grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho.