Ellen Ashcroft, Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition, 505/281-9676
Jon Schwedler, Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition, 505/270-3637
February 23, 2006: The New Mexico Chapter of The Wildlife Society awarded two New Mexico Department of Transportation employees with the 2005 Conservation Award. Mark Fahey and Jeff Fredine of NMDOT were recognized for their work in facilitating planned safe wildlife passage construction across Interstate 40 in Tijeras Canyon.
The New Mexico Chapter of The Wildlife Society is an organization of professional biologists. The Conservation Award is given annually to persons or organizations not directly employed as professional wildlife biologists, but who have contributed significantly to the conservation of wildlife and/or wildlife habitats in New Mexico.
Interstate 40 is a major impediment to wildlife, and often animals are killed between Exits 170 and 175. The interstate is a barrier for mule deer, cougars, black bear, skunks, coyotes, and other wildlife that travel between the Sandias and Manzano Mountains. Just last week, a large male cougar was killed on I-40 in Tijeras Canyon.
Wildlife on roads are also a serious danger to people and property, as nationally over 200 people are killed a year due to wildlife-related accidents.
""Important features were included in this project for quite a low cost that will reduce vehicle/large animal collisions on I-40 and NM 333 in Tijeras Canyon between Carnuel and Tijeras. It will also promote wildlife connectivity currently virtually severed by I-40 through this narrow canyon. Many of the obstacles that hamper safe wildlife crossing, forcing them to put their lives and human lives at risk were actually cheap and simple to fix, once we became aware of the problem and began to look for solutions," said Fahey and Fredine in a joint statement.
The safe wildlife passages project facilitated by Mark Fahey and Jeff Fredine will use fencing to funnel wildlife to existing highway underpasses. The underpasses will be cleared of non-native brush to provide a clear passage for wildlife beneath the highway. The project also includes sensing devices and warning lights to alert drivers to the presence of wildlife on the highway.
A local group of citizens, called the Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition, has brought attention to the hazard of wildlife on highways in Tijeras Canyon. The coalition is working with New Mexico Game & Fish to monitor current wildlife activities along I-40, and help plan the fencing and underpasses.
"The Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition has been extremely helpful in this process. This safe passage project is one of the first in our state, and we believe it will be a great example for other projects throughout New Mexico, and the nation," said Mark Watson, Terrestrial Habitat Specialist for New Mexico Game & Fish.
"Mark and Jeff have been very receptive to our ideas, and we're very happy that they're being rewarded for their proactive approach to making I-40 safer for people and wildlife," said Kurt Menke and Luela Roberts, co-chairs of the Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition.
For more information on the I-40 wildlife safe passages project, visit www.safepassagecoalition.org