Bighorn sheep killed in East Vail is the second in 4 months |

Bighorn sheep killed in East Vail is the second in 4 months

Semi-truck headed east on I-70 was not able to avoid animal

Vail Daily file photo | Bighorn Sheep gather in East Vail in November of 2019.
Debbie Eno | Special to the Daily

A bighorn sheep was killed by a moving vehicle in East Vail on Sunday. It’s the second sheep fatality recorded in that area over the last four months. 

Randy Hampton with the Colorado Department of Wildlife said a district wildlife manager was in the area at the time and responded to the incident immediately, collecting the female sheep from the eastbound lane of I-70, where it was killed.

The department is currently conducting an investigation, but Vail Police also responded and were able to put together an account of what happened from witnesses in the area, one of which was a Vail Code Enforcement officer. The officer arrived after receiving a call from a member of the public, who said bighorn sheep had been gathering in the median. 

“Traffic heading west had slowed down significantly due to the Code Enforcement marked truck having the emergency lights activated,” said Ryan Kenney with the Vail Police Department. “The (code enforcement officer) went on I-70 to further slow traffic. At the same time, the sheep ran west toward VMS and then north. At the North Frontage Road guard rail, the sheep appeared to be preparing to leap over the rail when they saw a vehicle and a bicyclist on the road. The sheep became startled and ran south across the Interstate. The traffic heading eastbound saw the sheep and slowed down. However, a semi-truck could not avoid hitting one sheep as it attempted to slow. One sheep was hit and died immediately. The semi did not stop and continued eastbound. We were unable to get any identifying numbers off the truck. The rest of the sheep headed back north from Exit 180 and made it safely across the Interstate and across North Frontage Road.”

Dozens on interstate

A witness in the area said there were approximately 40 sheep on the interstate at one point on Sunday, with another 30 or so gathered on the hillside. 

A male sheep was killed on the westbound off-ramp at I-70 exit 180 in December when sheep were also gathering near the highway.

Before that, it had been a number of years since a sheep was known to have been hit and killed in the area, said Devin Duval, Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager.

In December, retired Colorado Parks and Wildlife official Bill Andree said bighorn sheep get hit by vehicles in that area “every couple of years.”

Andree said true numbers are uncertain as it can be hard to tell just how a bighorn died, particularly if the animal made it back to the hillside and the carcass has been scavenged.

The East Vail herd of bighorn sheep received a new spotlight in 2019 when a controversial development sought to convert a piece of bighorn habitat in the area into a high-density housing development. 

In January, the Vail Town Council directed the town manager to meet with the development team to look for an alternative site for the development. Also in January, the council explored ways to work with both Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation to keep bighorn sheep off the roads in East Vail. 

One of the witnesses from Sunday also witnessed the December incident. 

“They were both just so sad to see,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to prevent this.”

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