Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coalition moves to reduce wildlife deaths on Colorado roads

By Bruce Finley
The Denver Post
Posted: 11/10/2009 01:00:00 AM MST

A coalition of government and private groups mobilized Monday to try to reduce roadkill of wildlife, which has increased in recent years, with sensitive species such as the lynx among the deaths.

Colorado Wildlife on the Move launched a website to try to tap drivers along Interstate 70 as spotters. The idea is for drivers to report deer, elk, bighorn sheep and other animals on roads, using the Internet to help avert collisions.

State transportation officials said they'll also relay more wildlife warnings on electronic signs. The ultimate goal: construction of more wildlife overpasses and underpasses as in other Western states.

"We see traffic continuing to increase. We see development continuing to increase. We need to make sure we work proactively," said Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. "We're always constrained by dollars, particularly now."

Wildlife ranks third among causes of crashes, behind excessive speed and inattentive driving, state officials said. Data show the number of collisions statewide increased from about 1,900 in 2000 to 3,750 in 2005, the last year for which data were available.

Animal fatalities include at least 14 of the endangered lynx that state biologists have been reintroducing to prevent extinction.

Last year, seven drivers were killed and 191 were injured in collisions with wildlife, State Patrol Sgt. John Hahn said. Insurers, who paid out $1.1 billion nationwide last year for claims, supported the effort to use drivers as spotters for animals along roads.

Wildlife collisions "are a waste of the resource," said Tyler Baskfield, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman. "We'd much rather see these animals be a draw to the state. . . . Nothing good comes from a wildlife collision."

The Center for Native Ecosystems and ECO-Resolutions, a consulting firm, launched the website (www.I-70WildlifeWatch.org) just as fall migrations from summer to winter habitat begin. November and December have been the deadliest months for animals and drivers.

State officials say they'll convey more wildlife sighting information using electronic signs because static yellow signs, erected after more than five collisions occur in a year, aren't as effective as needed.

The challenge will be finding funding for the overpasses and underpasses that can help wildlife adapt to fragmentation of their habitat. Colorado has built about 10. Arizona, Washington, Montana and Utah have more.

State Patrol troopers pointed out that, while an Internet-based system may help avert wildlife collisions, there could be a risk.

"Very definitely, there'd be a concern if somebody driving along I-70 trying to do the right thing — send off information about wildlife on the side of the road — at the same time created a huge safety risk by trying to get online while driving," Hahn said.

"Pull onto the shoulder or an off ramp, rather than doing it at 55 or 60 miles per hour. We'd like to avoid having the same person who is driving the car trying to send this information."

Bruce Finley: 303-954-1700 or bfinley@denverpost.com



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