Merriott column: Critters crossing the highways, oh my!
It was said recently that animals need at least 10 seconds to cross a busy highway. Personally, I say to stay off the highways after dark these days.
Unfortunately, if the deer and elk in the Roaring Fork Valley are going to feed and drink they have to make an attempt to cross the highway. I find it hard to see a 10-second break on Highway 82 anymore. Our deer and elk herds are plummeting. They are our responsibility!
A front-page article in the Denver Post last month was entitled “World Class Elk Herd in Bulls Eye of Outdoor Recreation.” The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership report has calculated that almost 40% of the most important elk habitat in Colorado is being avoided by the biggest elk herd in the world. The deer and elk are presently avoiding 8 million out of 22 million acres where they used to migrate, seek food and shelter and do their calving.
One of the main reasons they avoid these areas is the traffic on our highways; more and more of it going faster and faster. The estimates of wildlife killed on Colorado highways is probably going to go over 10,000 animals a year, with about 80% being deer and elk. We know where the hot collision zones are as we identified them 10 years ago when the Colorado Legislature, led by former Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Kathleen Curry, and testified for by yours truly and Perry Will, then with the Department of Wildlife. We established double fine zones from dusk to dawn from Sept. 1 to May 1. The signs are still up by the Aspen airport and around the state, take a look.
According to CDOT, we got 10-15% reductions in wildlife collisions in those zones. That’s 1,000 animals that don’t have to suffer for just trying to access the areas they have lived in for thousands of years. Sadly, this is no longer is being enforced as it has lapsed.
It is however the intention of Passages Coalitions to bring forward legislation next session which would renew our commitment to the double fine zone similar to a “construction zone.” It will take some time while we wait for Senate Bill 22-151 (Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Fund) to be implemented. It will take four to five years to build the overpasses and underpasses needed to provide safe passages for our wildlife.
Just so you know how effective these can be, the 2016 Colorado Highway 9 mitigation project reduced wildlife vehicle collisions by 92% in the five years after construction. We are currently in negotiations with stakeholders in the Roaring and Eagle valleys for sponsors for the Crossing Legislation, and I personally have received interest and support. One of the side benefits to this legislation was we got CDOT to add a lot of wildlife fencing.
The Roaring Fork Valley Safe Passages Group is rapidly expanding as most of us just can’t stand to see animals suffer needlessly. Summit and Eagle Counties have groups forming as well. Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky has voiced his interest to me in the legislation, as the commissioners supported the effort 10 years ago. The costs would be minimal, as the studies are done and the signs are made. There is a good bit of momentum on all the wildlife issues now, and I hope each and every one of you will involve yourself in one or all of these worthy Colorado projects.
If you want to be involved in this issue, email email@example.com and there is a website now up as well [roaringforksafepassages.org]. Another group to take a look at is the http://www.roaringforkbears.org, which seeks to cut down on the interaction of humans and bears after a sow and four cubs had to be killed last summer in Aspen.
Chief Seattle said to President Pierce in 1855:
“When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, and the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men. Where is thicket? Gone! Where is Eagle? Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift and the hunt; the end of living and beginning of survival.”
Biodiversity is much needed and we have taken it for granted I fear.
My hope and prayer is to let there be more issues like this that Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Summit can come together on for the common good while we seek workable solutions. Let this be one of the first.
Frosty Merriott of Carbondale is a longtime local CPA, former member of the Carbondale Board of Trustees and current appointed member of the town Environmental Board.
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