Opinion: Help protect wildlife for generations to come

Photo by Jacob Byk

Roberta Salazar

Our Upper Río Grande watershed - which stretches from southern Colorado down through Northern New Mexico - is considered one of the best-connected wildlife migration landscapes in the country. In this region, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, migratory birds and even fish move across federal, state, tribal and private lands and waters. Such movement is necessary for the survival of many species so they can mate, find food, adapt to changing climates and maintain genetic diversity.

Unfortunately, in recent years, these important migration pathways have been negatively impacted by expanding road construction and energy production. This results in ever-increasing habitat fragmentation - one of the greatest risks to the health of ecosystems and wildlife.

Protected roadless areas and wildlife corridors are critical for safe wildlife movement.

Carson National Forest released a draft management plan that will guide its management decisions for the next 20 years. The Carson plan's public comment period (which closes on Nov. 7) gives citizens the opportunity to influence this plan.

Your time spent writing and submitting a comment letter now may make a positive difference for decades for the health of local wildlife.

Please submit your comment letter to ask our Carson National Forest managers officials to increase their recommended acreage for wildlife corridors and wilderness in the final version of the plan.

Urge the planners to increase protected acreage through objective recommendations of roadless lands with wilderness characteristics within this plan and through prohibitions of new road construction, new energy leases and new mineral extraction in sensitive areas.

Request that Carson Forest managers recommend 25,000 acres of roadless land north of Forest Road 87 as wilderness in the Greater Cruces Basin area, 14,000 acres as wilderness for addition to the Pecos wilderness and 15,000 for addition to the Valle Vidal area.

Urge Carson managers to take additional steps to include roadless acreage in Alternative 5 in their final management plan to give greater protection for wildlife habitat and corridors.

Significant tracts of roadless areas with wilderness characteristics (not yet designated as wilderness) are rare and relatively small in size compared to our overall forest lands. These roadless tracts serve as critical ecological anchors to adjacent wildlife corridors. Protecting their wilderness character will not only ensure that many wildlife species will be protected but also that traditional ways of life such as game hunting for local communities will be maintained.

Ask Carson National Forest planners to add bighorn sheep as a "species of conservation concern" which will prioritize the management of bighorn sheep to ensure this iconic species continues to survive and thrive.

Ask the Carson planners not to remove Wild and Scenic River eligibility for 62 river segments on the Carson National Forest. These Wild and Scenic River eligibilities provide special management protections of local fish and wildlife species.

National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund report that the world's vertebrate wildlife populations have drastically declined by 60 percent over the past 50 years due to impacts cause by humans.

While our local wildlife populations haven't plummeted to this degree yet, the Carson Plan Revision's public comment period offers a unique opportunity for us to be proactive in advocating for wildlife to help prevent such drastic impacts. Protecting wilderness, wildlife habitat and migration corridors in the Upper Río Grande is important not only for wildlife, but for our outdoor recreation economy and for the local communities that depend on robust wildlife populations.

Write your comments to: Carson Forest Plan Supervisor, Carson National Forest, 208 Cruz Alta Road, Taos, New Mexico 87571 or go to connectedcorridors.com/petition/carson.

Roberta Salazar is executive director of Rivers & Birds, a conservation group that advocates for public lands and provides experiential environmental education.

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