The Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition focuses on the needs of wildlife living on either side of Interstate-40, in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains. Don MacCarter, NMGF
In recent years, conservation biologists have learned that the survival of wildlife depends on “wildlife linkages,” or corridors that connect pockets of habitat and allow the movement of animals. Linkages give animals increased access to the basics of survival: food, water, mating partners and living space.
The wildlife linkage through Tijeras Canyon, which connects the Sandias to the Manzanos just east of Albuquerque, is one of the most critically important–and endangered–areas in the nation for wildlife passage. The natural habitat on either side of Interstate-40 provides homes for species like cougar, bear, and bighorn sheep, among many others. The Interstate severs the two mountain ranges and creates a treacherous, deadly barrier for animals attempting to travel through the Canyon. Collisions due to hitting or avoiding wildlife on highways through Tijeras Canyon are a growing problem, resulting in injuries and deaths for both animals and people.
To address these challenges, the Tijeras Canyon Safe Passage Coalition (TCSPC or Coalition) formed in May 2004. The TCSPC is an unincorporated group of organizations, agencies, and individuals working to provide safe crossings for wildlife and safer travel for people through Tijeras Canyon. Animal Protection of New Mexico chairs the Coalition, which currently has over thirty members.
Shortly after the Coalition formed, members learned of the proposed New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) project to reconstruct Interstate-40 between the Carnuel and Tijeras interchanges. This project is part of Governor Richardson’s Investment Parternship (GRIP), approved by the New Mexico Legislature in 2003. GRIP is a $1.6 billion statewide highway expansion and infrastructure improvement project. In Tijeras Canyon, GRIP will include reconstruction of Interstate-40 and widening of the highway’s shoulders.
Although the TCSPC was formed to ultimately achieve a much broader vision, it has currently identified the Tijeras GRIP project as its highest priority. GRIP provides NMDOT with the perfect opportunity to incorporate “ecopassages” into reconstruction plans–that is, to build passages over and/or under the Interstate so wildlife can cross the highway safely.
Black bears, along with cougar, deer, bighorn sheep and domesticated animals are frequent victims of fast moving vehicles through Tijeras Canyon. Matt Clark
TCSPC members are actively participating in the GRIP project’s development stages. The Coalition requested that public input be gathered on the project, and NMDOT granted that request. The Coalition has submitted extensive comments incorporating advice from experts in engineering, law, wildlife biology and conservation, as well as from citizens who possess local knowledge of wildlife in the area.
NMDOT also agreed to conduct a feasibility study to identify the most suitable locations for ecopassages in the Tijeras Canyon GRIP project area. The TCSPC is working closely with the study’s contractors, and Coalition members have donated numerous volunteer hours to assist with the study.
Formal plans for the Tijeras GRIP project will likely be released in February 2005. To keep updated on the GRIP project, and for other information on the TCSPC, please visit the Coalition website at www.SafePassageCoalition.com or attend the next TCSPC meeting. Meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at the East Mountain Chamber of Commerce. Meetings are open to the public, and conference calling is available by contacting Susan Smith, TCSPC Co-Chair, at (505) 281-8165 or email@example.com.