Northwest Colorado residents and wildlife conservation groups are among those advocating for more state funding for wildlife crossings proposed in Senate Bill 22-151 that currently is moving forward in the state Legislature.
The bipartisan legislation called Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists would provide additional funding for wildlife road crossing projects across the state.
The bill was up for discussion on Friday, May 6, in the State House of Representatives as the final step for approval.
The bill would create a Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Fund for wildlife crossing projects on stretches of roads and highways with high rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions or where the ability of wildlife to move across the landscape has been hampered by high traffic volumes, explained Paige Singer, a conservation biologist with nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wild.
“Hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife contribute $5 billion in economic output in Colorado each year and support 40,000 jobs across the state,” the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project — which includes Keep Routt Wild —wrote in a May 3 letter to the Colorado House Appropriations Committee.
“The $5 million allocation and the fund that would be established by Senate Bill 151 would begin to make travel through the state safer for residents, visitors and wildlife and would ensure that healthy, resilient wildlife populations and quality hunting opportunities continue to be part of the Colorado way of life,” the letter continued.
Routt County resident Gaspar Perricone, who serves as chair of the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project, said he “is pleased at the commitment the state is making and hopes for continued investment in this ongoing effort.”
The fund would help advance projects identified in CDOT’s 10-year pipeline of projects with wildlife infrastructure components, as well as projects identified by the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance.
Perricone said a key benefit to the state funding would be to help leverage more federal funding.
“This is a great step in strengthening the landscape connectivity necessary to support a healthy wildlife population while reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions across the state,” Perricone said Thursday, May 5. “It’s good news for public safety and wildlife and hunting opportunities and the associated economic activity in the county.”
The section of U.S. Highway 40 stretching from east of Craig to Hayden is just one area of significant wildlife-vehicle collisions. That section is also on the state’s list as a priority for Northwest Colorado for developing funding strategies and future projects, said Elise Thatcher, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Area motorists and law enforcement officials also witness numerous wildlife-vehicle collisions on many sections of U.S. 40 throughout the Yampa Valley and up through Rabbit Ears Pass, as well as on other area roads.
Vehicle collisions with large wildlife have killed bears and moose near Steamboat Springs several times within the past year.
Rocky Mountain Wild noted that law enforcement officials report an average of 4,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions annually in Colorado, though the number may be closer to 14,100 each year when estimating unrecorded collisions.
According to Rocky Mountain Wild, wildlife-vehicle collisions can have tragic consequences, including hundreds of human injuries and some fatalities, the death of thousands of animals, and an annual cost of approximately $80 million in property damage, emergency response, medical treatments and other costs. That figure does not include the value of lost wildlife — estimated at about $24 million — or the impact on the health of wildlife populations.
According to the CDOT Western Slope Wildlife Prioritization Study completed in 2019, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials estimate that more mule deer are killed each year in wildlife-vehicle collisions on the Western Slope than from the annual hunter harvest.