Colorado’s wildlife crossings save lives

The Aspen Times reported last week that drivers in Colorado killed nearly 7,000 wild animals last year, resulting in two human deaths and almost 400 injuries, according to data from a state road kill survey.

That represents a roughly 50% increase in wildlife collisions over the past four years. Summit County is part of the region with highest share of deaths, with roughly 2,100 since 2013.

Since the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) completed two overpasses and five underpasses on a notoriously dangerous 10-mile stretch of road between Silverthorne and Kremmling, collisions decreased by 87% down from an annual average of 64 to 8.

Federal, state and local officials identified other critical areas where they’d like to build wildlife crossings, specifically on Interstate-70 east of Vail Pass and near Laskey Gulch, on Colorado Highway 91 near Copper Mountain and on Highway 9 north of Silverthorne and in the Blue River area.

“This is not going to be a project that relies on one big agency,” said U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist Ashley Nettles. “The funding is going to have to come from the community, and we have to get creative. The Forest Service is broke, CDOT is broke, but I think together we can start thinking of innovative ways to make this happen.”

Thus, the most promising way to get the new projects off the ground would be to provide matching funds for CDOT with a mix of private donations and money from local governments.

That’s how the Highway 9 project got done, with local residents pitching in with small donations and a single donor contributing $5 million of the roughly $50 million total cost. All told, about 20% percent of the money for the project came from sources other than CDOT.

To select the new priority areas, consultants worked with the Forest Service to analyze crash data and rank areas based on how important they are to wildlife movement—and how feasible a crossing would be.

“This is kind of the first and most successful system where we’ve been able to stop animals from getting onto the road and also mitigate the effects” of animal crossings, said CDOT planning and environmental manager Mike Vanderhoof.

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