Driving safely on WSMR can seem like an easy ride, until you encounter wildlife in the middle of the road.
The WSMR Garrison Safety Office recently reported an increase in vehicle hits on all wildlife on WSMR roads.
“There are actually hits on all wildlife on White Sands almost every year. Last year we even had a Soldier hit a cow on the North Range,” said Seth Dyer, Chief of Safety with the Garrison Safety Office.
“People tend to focus only on Oryx, but other wildlife such as: elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, Barbary sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, collared peccaries (Javelina), bobcats and raccoons all make White Sands home.”
Oryx are large antelopes with long, spear-like horns. They were brought to WSMR in the 1970s to create hunting opportunities for hunters. They can weigh anywhere from 395 to 530 pounds.
The WSMR Environmental Office reports that there are about 4,000-6,000 Oryx on the installation and another 2,000 Oryx off the installation on private lands, public Bureau of Land Management areas and on Fort Bliss.
Oryx roam freely wherever they can get into. They are much like pronghorn antelope or deer and while they can jump fences, they generally go under them.
According to Dyer, in most cases drivers are just not aware that there is wildlife in the surrounding areas, or they forget to look out for wildlife. He said there are several thousand people that work on White Sands that drive all over the entire range all year long and only a very limited number of them hit Oryx.
Because much of White Sands Missile Range and War Road between Highway-70 and El Paso is not fenced, there is no way for Oryx to stay away from traffic. Fencing north of Highway 70 on the North Range is also very limited and does little if anything to control the movement of all wildlife.
However, Oryx do have minor migration range areas that are dependent on weather, water and feed, but there isn’t much stopping them from going on or near the roads.
Dyer said there is not a place in the world with a large presence of wildlife that doesn’t have to worry about drivers possibly hitting them when they wander onto the road.
“If you visit Yellowstone National Park, they have traffic mishaps involving bears, elk, bison, deer and moose daily,” Dyer said. “Yellowstone and White Sands are virtually the same size at 2.5 million acres each.”
The good news is that drivers can do something to help prevent hits on wildlife.
“In most cases drivers are not wildlife minded,” Dyer said. “The key is to slow down and watch out for wildlife.”
It is also important for drivers to keep their distance and give the vehicle in front of them space to stop in case they encounter wildlife on the road. “Don’t tailgate and don’t speed.”
Vehicle convoys should also maintain a 100-yard distance between vehicles.
The installation is also doing its part to educate drivers new to WSMR.
The newcomers brief is mandatory for anyone new to working or living on White Sands. Also, the Safety Office has an Oryx driving safety video on YouTube and on its safety page.
“We suggest everyone slow down and be wildlife aware,” Dyer said. “This means turning down the radio, keeping off the phone (illegal on WSMR), and focusing on both sides of the road looking for wildlife.”
“Our traffic statistics show that when we are able to control wildlife numbers through the New Mexico Game and Fish hunting programs it makes driving on White Sands safer for everyone. Any American citizen may apply for elk, deer, Oryx, bighorn sheep and javelina permits to hunt on White Sands through their website. Additionally, those with up range badge access may contact environmental to see if they qualify to host friends and family, so they may too apply for the badge holder hunts for Oryx and small game.”
If someone does hit an Oryx, what should you do? Any person involved in a wildlife hit by a vehicle on the installation should notify Garrison Security at (575) 678-1234. Off the installation they should call 911 and depending on what county they are in report it to the Sierra, Otero, Lincoln, Socorro, or Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Office and notify the New Mexico Game and Fish. For wildlife strikes that do not involve damage to the vehicle, such as birds, rabbits and hares the driver should notify Garrison Environmental and give their location.
Contact the Environmental Division Office at (575) 678-2225 for additional questions or if you need assistance with injured or nuisance wildlife.
“Oryx can be anywhere, and if you see one there are probably 15 to 30 more Oryx that you don’t see laying in the heavy cover off to the side of the road,” Dyer said. “Slow down, and keep looking for them. Anyone driving during hours of reduced visibility should always be wildlife aware while driving. Many of them can be found on the road ways and cause a motor vehicle mishap.”
It is important to always be wildlife aware when you drive. However, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t avoid hitting wildlife, the safest way to hit any animal is to hit the animal in the center of your vehicle.
“Swerving to avoid an animal can cause you to lose control of the vehicle and will increase your risk for a roll over or death. Glancing blows will often create a roll over situation with a vehicle and a large animal. Sacrifice the vehicle for yourself, your coworkers, your friends and your family.”