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Wildlife corridor a great gift in any season

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By The Staff

Colorado Gov. Ritter and New Mexico Gov. Richardson delivered an early holiday present this year – the new wildlife corridor initiative between southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. In the beginning of December, these two governors agreed to work together to identify and protect key wildlife travel and migration corridors across their shared border. The agreement sets out a plan to use the best scientific geospatial mapping systems available to help conserve several key habitats and migration areas.

Protecting wildlife corridors is clearly a gift to the elk, deer, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep that will now have safe travel routes. But wildlife corridors are also a gift to the people and future generations of our region.

By protecting the habitat of critical wildlife, Governors Ritter and Richardson are in fact investing in our economies. Wildlife watchers, hunters and anglers spend money on food, lodging, transportation and equipment, which translates into regional prosperity. In 2006, wildlife watching in Colorado generated a total impact over $1.2 billion and supported 12,800 jobs. Wildlife related activity is an asset in every county. For example, in La Plata County, hunting and angling has a total economic impact of approximately $43,340,000 annually. Looking at Colorado as a whole, hunters and anglers in 2007 contributed $1.8 billion to Colorado’s economy in direct and indirect spending, which supported 21,000 jobs. To put those hefty sums in perspective, the annual economic impact of Colorado sportsmen and sportswomen is more than six times the combined revenues of the Colorado Rockies, Denver Broncos and Nuggets.

In New Mexico, hunters and anglers spend $1.2 million every day, which supports 8,000 jobs. It’s no surprise that sportsmen and sportswomen generate so much revenue. New Mexico’s hunters and anglers outnumber the combined populations of Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Rio Rancho – three of the state’s largest cities. Wildlife watching is also very popular. In 2006, approximately 787,000 people participated in wildlife related activities boosting New Mexico’s economy by more than $297 million. At a time when state budgets are stretched paper thin and tax revenues are falling, it makes good economic sense for Governors Ritter and Richardson to ensure that our combined billion dollar wildlife-related industry continues to thrive.

The current residents of New Mexico and Colorado certainly benefit every year from our robust outdoor recreation industry. However, future generations will also benefit from protecting wildlife and their habitats. The intermountain west is a unique place because of our natural heritage. Our scenic peaks, stunning deserts and ample wildlife makes our region a truly distinctive and spectacular place. By protecting wildlife corridors and investing in public lands we are allowing our children to learn from America’s outdoor classrooms.

In addition to the economic, educational and cultural impacts of this wildlife corridor project, this joint initiative has positive political implications. Challenges that arise from unprecedented population growth, energy development, air quality degradation and climate change do not occur neatly within state boundaries. On the contrary, key habitats, resources and the air we breathe exist across political boundaries. Coordinating wildlife protection across state lines is a great example of how elected officials from different states can and should collaborate to solve our complex problems. Continued cooperation between Governors Richardson and Ritter will surely help our region create innovative and effective solutions to our shared challenges.

In this wonderful season of giving, Governor Ritter and Governor Richardson have given a precious gift to the people, wildlife and future generations of Colorado and New Mexico. Their present was not a disposable party favor, but a valuable and lasting contribution to our economic, environmental and social wellbeing. As we write our thank you cards this year, let us keep in mind the elected officials who protect our wildlife heritage, and in turn help ensure the prosperity of our region.

Wally White is a county commissioner in La Plata County, Colorado.

Terry Z. Riley, Ph.D., is a cettified wildlife biologist, who lives in Tijeras, N.M.