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A new report outlines how to protect wildlife migration in the West

A deer out in the wild.
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Like humans, animals are creatures of habit and often don't adjust when their migration routes are disrupted. But a new report says there's adequate science to meet the challenge in New Mexico and other Western states. Each year, mule deer, elk, pronghorn and other large animals travel hundreds of miles in search of food. Jesse Duebel with the state's Wildlife Federation said by fitting migrating wildlife with GPS collars, scientists learn their routes and can recommend where overpasses, underpasses, box culverts and strategic fencing should be built, which he said has three major benefits.

"Number one, we're creating jobs in local communities; number two, we're reducing the number of wildlife/vehicle collisions happening on our roadways; and the third benefit, of course, is to the wildlife itself – we're not losing wildlife on our roadways," Duebel said.

Duebel said New Mexico's recently adopted Wildlife Corridors Action Plan is the first in the country to tackle wildlife habitat and driver-safety concerns holistically, rather than as separate issues. The new report, "How to Preserve Wildlife Migrations in the American West," is a product of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Pew's Matt Skroch said wildlife are important for natural landscapes and support the multi-million-dollar recreation industry.

"If they can't journey along these migration routes, in many cases the populations decline. And a declining population is bad for the wildlife and it's bad for the people that depend on those wildlife," Skroch said.

Duebel notes that while GPS has been around for several decades, it has only recently been scaled up for broad applications in wildlife research.

"So by just doing all of this mapping and utilizing these GPS collar technologies, we can see exactly where the problems are and then work with the Department of Transportation and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to develop long-term durable solutions," said Duebel.

New Mexico's Wildlife Corridors Action Plan directs state agencies to seek input from the public, tribal governments and other stakeholders as the plan is implemented.