Saturday, January 29, 2005
By Beth Hahn
Mountain View Telegraph
A proposal to help reduce the number of animals killed on Interstate 40 in Tijeras Canyon would include fencing along the freeway, escape ramps for deer and wildlife crossing caution signs.
Biologists, habitat specialists, highway engineers and concerned citizens attended a recent hearing about the proposal. It was sponsored by the Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition at the Sandia Ranger Station.
Biologist Paul Knight of Albuquerque's Marran and Associates Inc., who mapped game trails and studied animal movement patterns in the East Mountains, said I-40 in Tijeras Canyon is a death trap for deer and dangerous for drivers.
"There's no recovery for a driver if (deer) are stepping quickly on the road," he said. "(The deer) just get slaughtered."
With concrete barriers and low lighting, the area can be deadly for drivers who try to avoid wildlife as well, Knight added.
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish habitat specialist Mark Watson said he believes accidents involving wildlife are under-reported in the Tijeras Canyon area.
"We think a lot of deer get hit by semis, and they're not going to stop and call State Police," he said.
To solve the problem of wildlife criss-crossing I-40 for food and water, Knight and others surveyed the area, mapped deer trails and noted tracks of wildlife in culverts along the highway.
Knight passed out more than 200 surveys to citizens in the Tijeras Canyon area and asked if they had hit an animal while driving in the area or had seen animals on the highways.
The responses were plotted on aerial photographs of the canyon and used to render 3-D maps of the area. The patterns were used to determine where to place deterrents or where to enhance natural crossings for wildlife.
In some areas, Knight said, keeping wildlife off the interstate and N.M. 333 (Old Route 66) would be as easy as constructing a fence. In other areas, "escape ramps" or dirt embankments would have to be built so deer could have a way to get off I-40.
When deer jump onto the highway, Knight said, the combination of speeding traffic and concrete barriers can confuse the animals, and deer often run straight along fences rather than jumping over them.
Knight proposed building "escape ramps," or dirt embankments in medians where deer can jump down from I-40— but which would be too high for deer below the highway to jump up onto the pavement.
Predators, he said, tend to use already existing culverts under the highway that are too small for deer to pass through, although bears are often killed on I-40 as well.
Most of the improvements are meant to coincide with construction to improve I-40 between Tijeras and Carnuel, said Knight. He said the study is a ground-breaking precedent for the state.
A 2003 study by Game and Fish ranked I-40 in Tijeras Canyon No. 4 on a list of roads in the state that need wildlife crossings.
"It's all just a proposal," said Knight. "Nothing has been finalized."
The study, along with citizen comments, will be given to the state Department of Transportation for review.
Copyright 2005 Albuquerque Journal
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