US DOT to fund wildlife crossings, highlights Santa Ana Pueblo as a national leader

By: - April 5, 2023 5:36 am

U.S. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg (right) and Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. Nathan Garcia stand in front of a culvert that’s being used by wildlife to cross under I-25. Buttigieg chose to announce the new national Wildlife Crossing Program at Santa Ana Pueblo Tuesday, highlighting the work the tribe has already done in that realm. (Photo by Nash Jones / KUNM)

The U.S. Department of Transportation launched a new grant program Tuesday to combat vehicle collisions with wildlife. Sec. Pete Buttigieg traveled to New Mexico to make the announcement.

Buttigieg said sometimes road safety looks like a crosswalk, but in some communities — like rural New Mexico — it can look like a wildlife crossing.

Wild animals are involved in an average of 900 crashes in the state each year, according to the secretary, which can injure and even kill both people and animals.

“And even when they’re not fatal, they cost the state millions annually in medical expenses, lost work time and property damage,” he said.

Tribal leaders and members of the national and state wildlife federations gave the Secretary a tour of a culvert that tunnels under I-25 on Santa Ana Pueblo, which wildlife is using to cross the busy highway.

“Tribal communities like Santa Ana Pueblo have frankly been ahead of the rest of the country, and helped lead the rest of the country, in better understanding the importance of the relationship between human settlement and the ecology,” Buttigieg said.

Pueblo leaders delivered a presentation to Buttigieg on their research and planning efforts, which include collecting over a decade of data on the movement of animals to determine where they’re likely to cross.

The federal Wildlife Crossing Program makes available $350 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law over five years for states, local governments and tribes to create or — in Santa Ana’s case — improve wildlife crossings, like turning the flood mitigation tunnel into a proper bridge. The funds can go toward warning signs and mapping tools, as well.

The pueblo’s efforts are also one of 11 projects identified in the state DOT’s Wildlife Corridors Action Plan. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill last month that funds its implementation with $5 million dollars.

Buttigieg said part of what his department will be looking for in applications are these kinds of commitments from state and local governments to partner in the work.

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Nash Jones, KUNM News
Nash Jones, KUNM News

Nash Jones (they/them) grew up in Albuquerque and returned home in 2017 after 11 years away living in Portland, OR, and Oakland, CA. Storytelling and community education have consistently been at the core of Nash’s varied career and are, in part, what brought them to KUNM, first as a volunteer host with Spoken Word Hour and NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, then as a staff member in the KUNM newsroom, hosting Morning Edition (2018-2021) and reporting. Nash currently hosts NPR's All Things Considered and continues to report for KUNM.