Aspen-area drivers see more roadkill
Vail, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Some observers say there have been more collisions than usual between vehicles and big game this fall on Highway 82 between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Others don’t believe conditions are out of the ordinary.
Only one thing seems certain ” conditions will become more treacherous for animals and motorists as winter conditions force elk and more deer out of the high country to the valley floor.
Tuesday night brought the first significant snowfall in about a month. Up to then, large numbers of elk were staying at higher elevations, said Kelly Wood, the state wildlife manager for the Basalt district.
Green grass still was available for animals up high, so they stayed put, she said.
The potential for collisions with vehicles will “probably” get worse when the elk herds move to lower elevations, Wood said.
She doesn’t believe the amount of roadkill is above average so far this fall.
Maintenance workers for the Colorado Department of Transportation in the Highway 82 corridor also believe the numbers of carcasses they see and, sometimes, must remove from the roadways is about average, agency spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said.
But some drivers who are regularly on the road have reported seeing more carnage than usual.
Jeff Lumsden, a patrol supervisor with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said he has witnessed a “dramatic increase” in the amount of vehicle collisions with wildlife. He sent out a memo to patrol staff this week warning them to keep their eyes peeled for deer and elk, particularly at night.
He saw big game on various roadways each night recently while working a week of late shifts. He had two close calls with deer while patrolling country roads on which he only was traveling 25 mph.
Deputies have been getting calls nearly every night to help motorists after a collision with wildlife, he said. Often it involves shooting the wounded animals.
One driver reported related his experience of hitting a deer while driving on Highway 82 at Gerbazdale. He said he was keeping his eyes open for animals shortly after dusk on Nov. 17. He took swerved when a deer ran into the highway, but couldn’t avoid clobbering a second animal that darted in front of him.
He called authorities and watched as a deputy had to shoot an injured deer flailing on the shoulder of the road.
Unfortunately, there is no recent data on vehicle collisions with wildlife. The Colorado State Patrol reported that 35,302 collisions on state and interstate highways were documented between 1986 and 2004. Other accidents go unreported. No more recent data is available.
Data shows that the number of collision spike during two periods ” one being late-October to mid-November, said Monique DiGiorgio, director of development for an organization called the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project.
The group is working with CDOT on projects designed to improve safety for wildlife and motorists.
Research by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project identified Highway 82 as one of eight roadways or sections in the state that was “extremely hazardous” for motorists and wildlife for collisions. More information on its findings can be found at http://www.restoretherockies.org/on_the_move.htm.
The organization has more than 40 cameras installed along I-70 between Copper Mountain and Vail to study wildlife behavior. The organization wants to use the data to select the best places for special wildlife crossings. While the information is being collected along I-70, it could yield results that help on other roadways, DiGiorgio said.
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