White Sands Missile Range officials have issued a warning to employees driving internal roads as well as U.S. Highway 70 to beware of wildlife on the roadways. The warning is a result of a rash of recent accidents involving motor vehicles and wild animals. It should be heeded by all motorists.
According to Patrick Morrow, a White Sands wildlife biologist, drivers travelling between Las Cruces and Alamogordo have always seen mule deer as they traversed San Augustin Pass. He says drought has brought more deer than normal near the road as they seek water and food. They will jump the fences to get to new growth along the road shoulders.
All drivers should use extreme caution travelling through the Organ Mountains on U.S. Highway 70 especially at dawn and dusk. This is when the deer are most active. Also, the deer are unpredictable. They may appear to be passively grazing beside the road and suddenly attempt to cross in front of drivers.
Another possible wildlife hazard on U.S. Highway 70 is oryx on the road. This is an everyday problem for missile range employees driving on internal range roads because the roads are not fenced. However, highway 70 is fenced and oryx only get out on the highway right-of-way occasionally. They are big animals though, weighing about 450 pounds, and cause a lot of damage if struck by a speeding vehicle.
Missile range employees driving throughout White Sands have many other wildlife hazards to worry about. In fact, some employees feel Range Road 7, the main road between the south and north ends of the range, is one of the most dangerous roads in the state to drive because of the different animals found along it.
In addition to deer and oryx, employees must worry about horses and pronghorn along stretches of the road.
The horses are found in the middle of the missile range and often use the roads as they move around the Tularosa Basin. During periods of wet weather the horses have been known to bed down on roads which adds a new angle to this driving hazard.
In the north end of the missile range employees will often encounter pronghorn along the roadways. The pronghorn tend to roam the north range on a seasonal basis.
It is very common for employees to encounter all four of these large mammals on a single trip to the north end of White Sands. At night the hazard of encountering these animals is compounded by not being able to see beyond the range or angle of the vehicle´s headlights.
Drivers are urged to slow down and to always expect the animal to do the unexpected.