Development driving more deer, elk onto roads
While deer, elk and skiers have enjoyed a pretty healthy relationship, rarely colliding over the past 40 years, it’s a much different story down on Interstate 70 on the valley floor, where traffic has never been a friend of wildlife.
“The early snows drove a lot of wildlife down,” says Paul DeJulio, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s head maintenance engineer in the valley.
Surrounding regions, such as Aspen and Carbondale, are also seeing more wildlife on the roads this winter, possibly a result of heavier snow in higher altitudes driving the animals to the lowlands and valleys.
“It seems we have more wildlife on the road this winter, for whatever reason,” says Phillip Anderle, a Department of Transportation maintenance engineer in the Roaring Fork Valley. “But we have wildlife on the road everywhere.”
But, Bill Heicher, a Division of Wildlife district manager based in Eagle, says snow isn’t the main culprit driving wild animals into the path of cars hurtling down Interstate 70 at 75 mph.
“A lot of development that has occurred over the years is now pushing more animals out of their normal habitats,” Heicher says. “They’re moving a little more, looking for places to spend the winter.”
More problems are caused by holes in the deer fences installed along I-70. The fences, however, are there to protect drivers –not the roaming animals, Heicher says.
“A lot of the holes in the fence don’t get repaired,” he says. “And once a deer or an elk gets through those holes, they can’t find the holes to get back – they’re going to get hit.”
And not surprisingly, mankind, in isolated instances, is further exacerbating the problem it has created.
“We have problems with people, for whatever reason, cutting holes in the fence,” Heicher says.
Two hotspots on I-70 in the valley are just east of Edwards and just east of Wolcott, the latter of which is an old natural crossing point for deer herds, says Cpl. Dennis Gibbons of the Colorado State Patrol.
“The deer continue to migrate and now that the snow is deep in the high country, they’re living down here,” Gibbons says. “It tends to ruin your day when you hit one.”
There are some precautions drivers can take to make the inevitable collisions with deer less destructive and less life-threatening, Gibbons says.
“The biggest thing to do is be aware they are in the area this time of year and consider slowing down, because they are unpredictable,” he says. “They will jump out in front of you with no notice.”
Most critical is for a driver not to panic when headed for an unavoidable collision with a deer or elk, Gibbons says.
“If you’re going to hit the deer, you’re going to hit the deer – it’s not going to kill you unless you panic,” Gibbons says. “If you try to do an emergency steer around it, there’s a good chance you’ll roll your car, and that’s when people get hurt.”
“Just hit it,” he adds, “You’ll do less damage.”
If there is time to safely avoid the animal, steer toward the back end of the deer –it will run off, Gibbons says.
Animals that have been hit by cars are found throughout the mountains, Anderle says.
“Along the Western Slope, motorists can expect to see wildlife just about anywhere,” he says. “Whether you’re driving over mountain passes or long, straight stretches of highway, it’s just a matter of staying alert and being prepared to slow down when necessary.”
“We urge drivers to use extreme caution now and into spring,” he adds, “when more grass begins to grow along the roadsides.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.