Elected officials, forest planners, wildlife authorities, landowners, tribal leaders and community members gather to discuss new policy initiatives for protecting important migration areas
SANTA FE, NM – On Tuesday, more than 150 community leaders along with state, federal and tribal representatives gathered in Taos, N.M. for a summit convened by the National Wildlife Federation to promote collaboration on wildlife corridors in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
The day-long event featured remarks by U.S. House Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM), New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Tim Mauck, representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, state game agencies, tribal wildlife officials and private land owners. The goal of the event was to exchange information and build regional collaboration to protect migration corridors and critical wildlife habitat in the Upper Rio Grande region.
“New Mexico’s wildlife corridors face unique challenges ranging from the climate crisis to encroaching developments that require us to act – and I’ve been a proud partner in Congress working to deliver on federal protections that are much-needed. Working with diverse stakeholders to protect wildlife corridors is critical in order to protect our wildlife habitats and ensure healthy wildlife migration,” said Congressman Ben Ray Luján.
“Today’s summit was a celebration that reflects what most New Mexicans want: undisturbed public lands that keep wildlife corridors intact,” said U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM). “Wildlife do not know when they are north of I-40 or east of I-25. That’s why we must work collaboratively with tribes, the state land office, the federal government, and landowners to ensure wildlife connectivity and protect the diverse cultural landscapes in New Mexico we know and love.”
“Colorado is excited to partner with New Mexico to develop a united wildlife corridor strategy. We hope this is the first in many cross-state conversations with our friends here about protecting wildlife regionally,” said Tim Mauck, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
“Recognizing that fragmentation of human communities leads to fragmentation of wildlife habitat, it was really amazing to see tribal leaders, private landowners, traditional land users, hunters, anglers state and federal agencies and elected officials all coming together to discuss protecting one of the most intact and impressive wildlife landscapes in our country,” said Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation.
Howard Gross, assistant commissioner for surface resources at the New Mexico State Land Office, put it succinctly: “Collaboration isn’t a privilege. Collaboration is a necessity.”
The summit took place just months after New Mexico enacted a statewide wildlife corridors law, as noted by New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Richard Garcia. “Today’s summit laid the foundation for New Mexico and our land stakeholders to get to work implementing the Wildlife Corridors Act. Legislative champions pushed through the very first Corridors Act in the country, Governor Lujan Grisham signed it into law, and now the work begins. Everyone is leaving this summit energized and ready to collaborate to make wildlife corridors in the Upper Rio Grande and all across New Mexico a priority.”
New forest management plans were also at the top of the agenda for today’s summit. The Santa Fe, Carson and Rio Grande National Forests recently released draft forest plans that will guide land management and the direction of these forests for decades to come. Within each forest, several migration corridors have been identified which need greater protection from development, logging and road building. The public is encouraged to send comments about these plans to the U.S. Forest Service at https://connectedcorridors.com/action-center/.
Spanning from the San Luis Valley in Colorado to the Sandia Pueblo in New Mexico, the Upper Rio Grande region is home to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, lynx, Rio Grande cutthroat trout and much more. Although it has been recognized as one of the best connected landscapes for wildlife in the country, roads, fences, extractive industries and climate change now threaten to fragment it.