Draft wildlife action plan released for comment

The Daily Times staff

FARMINGTON — Every decade, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish prepares a wildlife action plan that serves as the blueprint for conservation initiatives.

A western bluebird perches on a tree during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in December near the Riverside Nature Center on the Animas River in Farmington. The western bluebird is one of 235 species identified as species of greatest conservation need in the draft New Mexico wildlife action plan.

The draft of the new action plan was released Tuesday, and people have until Aug. 31 to submit comments.

Using the plan, department officials can decide how to spend money. For example, the previous action plan helped the state secure funding to create a recovery plan for the gray vireo, a small bird that lives in junipers woodlands and oak chaparral. While the bird's population has been increasing in Utah, Arizona and southern New Mexico, it is declining in northern New Mexico. Scientists believe loss of habitat has led to that population decline. The bird is also targeted by cowbirds, who lay their eggs in the vireo's nest.

The plan divides the state into six ecoregions, including the Colorado plateaus, southern Rocky Mountains, high plains and tablelands, Chihuahuan Desert, Madrean Archipelago and Arizona/New Mexico mountains. The Colorado plateau region includes the northwest part of the state and includes 64 species identified as needing the greatest conservation efforts. Those 64 species include three amphibians, 39 birds, five crustaceans, seven fish, seven mammals, a mollusk and two reptiles. A total of 235 species have been identified statewide as species with the greatest conservation needs, a list that includes the western bluebird.

The concerns in the Colorado plateau center around habitat fragmentation and pollution caused by oil and gas extraction, cheatgrass invading the sagebrush habitat and changes in the river ecosystems due to water withdrawals, according to the draft plan.

The plan also includes places called conservation opportunity areas, such as the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, which provides habitat for nine of the identified species of greatest conservation need, including the roundtail chub, which is listed as an immediate priority, and the bank swallow and California kingsnake, which have specialized or limited habitats in New Mexico.

People interested in commenting on the plan can submit comments by email to DGF-comments.swap@state.nm.us or by mail to Matt Wunder, Ecological and Environmental Planning Division of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at P.O. Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504.