Ritter approves law on wildlife crossing zones | VailDaily.com

Ritter approves law on wildlife crossing zones

Aspen Times staff report
Aspen, CO Colorado

A bill designed to increase safety by allowing Colorado to set up wildlife crossing zones on state highways was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter this week.

The bill was sponsored by the Roaring Fork Valley’s two state legislators, Rep. Kathleen Curry, an independent from Gunnison, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. It allows the Colorado Department of Transportation to work with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Patrol to identify areas where crossing zones are appropriate.

Extra signs will be erected in the zones. Speed limits will be reduced and fines might be doubled for violators. The wildlife crossing zones will be similar to construction zones.

The law gives the transportation department authority to designate up to 100 miles of state roadways as wildlife crossing zones.

“It literally brings tears to my eyes to think of all the human and animal lives this will save over the years and the suffering this bill has the potential to prevent,” said Frosty Merriott, a Carbondale Town Trustee who initiated the legislative effort. “Passing this bill was truly a team effort and I am so grateful for the hard work and perseverance shown by Rep. Curry and Sen. Schwartz.”

Merriott said the intent of the crossing zones is to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife by slowing speeds to increase the reaction time available to drivers when animals are in the road. He supplied statistics that show there are 725,000 to 1.5 million animal-vehicle collisions in the U.S. each year. They typically result in 200 human deaths, 29,000 human injuries and $8 billion in damages.

“The high rate of collisions with wildlife is costing Colorado lives and dollars,” Schwartz said. “Certain times of the year, on specific sections of roads, we know wild animals are likely to cross. Now, we will mark with better signs and adjust speeds to protect drivers and wildlife and avoid these dangerous collisions.”

It is unknown if Highway 82 will be selected for any of the zones. The transportation department erected 8-foot tall wildlife fencing on both sides of Highway 82 along a four-mile stretch by Aspen Glen Golf Club. That’s between mile markers seven and 11. Additional fencing will be installed this summer between mile markers 11 and 16.

State statistics show vehicle-wildlife collisions fell along the Aspen Glen stretch of highway last year.

Merriott said other states have already taken notice of Colorado’s new law. “This is a big deal because other western states are already inquiring as to how to duplicate it,” he said.

Ritter signed two other bills June 9 that were sponsored by Schwartz. One bill will promote biomass energy development through tax incentives and renewable energy initiatives. The third bill promotes adoption of pets housed in shelters, and creates a new fund to help offset costs for spaying and neutering animals. It also creates a new Adopt a Shelter Pet license plate.

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