Cars hit more animals in the fall
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” It wasn’t hitting a deer on Midland Avenue near her home that disturbed Julia Novy the most, it was watching the wild animal die.
“It was horrible,” Novy said. “I just had to sit there and watch.”
Novy’s experience was a little out of the ordinary for wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Roaring Fork Valley. Her accident happened about 10:30 in the morning as she traveled on Midland Avenue at about 25 mph. Her vehicle wasn’t even damaged too badly. But she still hit the animal with enough force to end its life.
It’s something that still troubles her.
“It was in broad daylight,” she said. “It literally just stepped out in front of me. It hit me so hard that I killed it.”
She’s was thankful that her kids weren’t in the car with her to witness it.
Novy’s friend Andi Johnson, a resident of Missouri Heights subdivision, and nine-year resident of the valley, doesn’t understand why more isn’t being done to fix the problem.
“I am so angry that nothing is being done about it,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried for nine years, but nothing is being done. It’s all talk and no action.”
But there isn’t a quick fix to this problem, according to Randy Hampton with the Colorado Division of Wildlife .
Novy’s accident happened on a speed-restricted side street in town; the outcome could have been much worse had she been traveling the 55 or 65 mph on Highway 82.
She could have been injured as well.
When the winter winds cool the valley, herds of deer and elk migrate from higher summer habitats to lower valley floors for the winter range. There are also fewer hours of daylight, and when people begin the commute in the morning and evening times, it’s typically dark and the animals are active.
“That is when we see a higher number of accidents,” Hampton said. “The highways make the movement of the herds more challenging when they are migrating to winter range.”
Highways are unnatural barriers for wildlife. Herds will cross whatever they need to in order to get to the food source for the winter. It’s a matter of survival. It’s what the animals have done long before the highways and roads where built.
“In terms of migration, we come in and put in highways that disrupt the migratory routes of the herds. What’s going to change when we disrupt those routes? Where herds go to winter?” Hampton said. “Then you throw development on top of that and you decrease the elk’s winter range, and people wonder why there are so many accidents.”
Even with the high number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on the highway, and around the state, Hampton said it’s relatively minor in relation to the size of the population. White River National Forest is home to the largest elk herd in North America.
“Because the population is so huge, roadkill is a small factor in terms of the herd,” Hampton said. “It’s really a public safety issue more than anything.”
D’Wayne Gaymon, senior foreman with the Colorado Department of Transportation for in Grand Junction, patrols Highway 82. He’s cleaned up his share of elk and deer carcasses from Glenwood to Aspen.
“The worst thing you see, if not cleaned up in a timely manner, they can get pretty stinky,” Gaymon said. “The longer they are there, the worse they smell.”
Road crews clean up the carcasses along the highway, most often when they’re reported by commuters or if the animal is obstructing traffic. The Division of Wildlife doesn’t respond to accidents unless the animal needs to be put out of its misery.
They don’t clean up carcasses themselves and encourage them to be left alone, as long as it’s off the highway.
“The carcass provides food for the other critters in the area,” Hampton said. “The clean and sanitary option goes contrary to what is beneficial to other wildlife like birds, foxes and other critters.”
The Division of Wildlife will often provide locations for dumping some of the dead animals. The others are picked and taken to a landfill.
Gaymon doesn’t enjoy scraping animals off the asphalt, but somebody has to do it. It’s early season yet, and Gaymon knows he’s not seen the end of the blood this year.
“It’s just the beginning ” the big herds are still coming down,” he said. “I think there will be more. There will be more.”
Stretches of wildlife fencing have been installed in high activity sections of highways across the state to keep the herds away. But there are always a few that manage to get around it; it’s impossible to keep them all behind the line.
Hampton added that the Division of Wildlife would “aggressively oppose” fencing off all roads, especially Highway 82.
“It’s not healthy for the herds,” he said. “If they can’t migrate the numbers will dwindle.”