Opinion: How New Mexicans can help wildlife survive and thrive

By Maya Forte, Taos
Posted 5/16/19

This week the United Nations released a report with devastating news: up to one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. The study, which was based on thousands of scientific …

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Opinion: How New Mexicans can help wildlife survive and thrive

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This week the United Nations released a report with devastating news: up to one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. The study, which was based on thousands of scientific studies, showed that plant and animal life has declined by 20 percent over the last century. Most of these declines are attributed to industrial development and climate change.

As a high school senior who has spent several years working on behalf of local conservation issues, [I found] the report rekindled the urgency I feel about making sure my generation steps up to protect our precious lands, waters and wildlife.

All of my life, I have been passionate about the outdoors. My parents took me hiking, kayaking and camping almost as soon as I could walk. I have been blessed to grow up in this beautiful state - with an abundance of wildlife and landscape that is a constant source of inspiration and awe. This being said, we cannot take New Mexico's natural treasures for granted.

I believe individuals can make a difference by speaking out and taking action. As the head of the Sustainability Club at my high school, I'm proud of the things we accomplished. We managed to institute a recycling program at my school, and plan on continuing to make our new campus as environmentally efficient as possible.

I've also become increasingly interested in another issue that directly affects New Mexicans. This summer, officials at the Santa Fe and Carson national forests will release new plans which will determine how these areas will be managed in the decades to come. It's critical that these plans recognize the importance of wildlife corridors for species survival. Bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, black bear, elk and many other animals must travel great distances for breeding and foraging. Protecting their wildlife routes from roads and development will help these species survive and thrive.

A recent poll commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation shows that I am not alone in wishing to see these corridors protected. The poll found that 87 percent of residents in our state would like to see more wildlife overpasses or underpasses built to prevent collisions with vehicles, 73 percent would like to prevent oil and gas development in migration routes and 94 percent want forest planners to make wildlife connectivity a high priority.

This issue is extremely important to both my generation and those to come, and I plan to ensure that forest planners realize the true influences of their decisions. Although I can't save all the species that are mentioned in the U.N. report, I can do my best to try to protect the wildlife that lives in New Mexico. Protecting wildlife corridors in the Upper Río Grande is an important first step.

Maya Forte grew up in Taos and is a senior at New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe. This fall she plans to attend University of Washington in Seattle.

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