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Seen a lot of roadkill this winter, Vail Valley?

Steve Lynn
Vail, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyA dead deer lies on the side of I-70 near Edwards. Roadkill continues to be a problem in the valley despite efforts to reduce the number of animals hit each year.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Scott Schlosser said he has never seen so many dead deer and elk on Interstate 70.

Schlosser cannot stand looking at their carcasses anymore, so he takes U.S. Highway 6 instead, he said.

“It’s just a brutal winter for everybody and unfortunately the deer have been taking the brunt of it,” said Schlosser, who lives in Eagle.

Residents say it looks like more deer and elk have been killed on the interstate this winter than during others. Authorities say that a significant number of deer and elk have been killed by vehicles on the interstate, though they don’t keep statistics.

Interstate 70 goes through the best land for elk to spend the winter on, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“With the amount of snow on the ground, the animals are having difficulty getting to their forage, getting to their food, so they’re moving to try and find it,” he said. “That movement generally takes them right across I-70.”

Because of a harsh and snowy winter, wildlife managers have started feeding starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time in almost 25 years. Heavy snowfall has covered up the small plants and shrubs, like sage brush, that deer eat in the winter.

Sgt. Shawn Olmstead of the Colorado State Patrol estimates that troopers have seen an average of “two or three” collisions with animals every night since January in Eagle County.

“(In) my opinion, this is the most severe winter I’ve seen as far as snowfall and the number of animal-caused accidents,” said Olmstead, noting that the State Patrol has not counted the collisions.

People have been driving too fast and cannot react in time to avoid animals on the interstate, Olmstead said.

The accidents can be dangerous, especially if an elk goes through a driver’s windshield and also if drivers swerve at high speeds to avoid the animals, he said.

“The best thing to do is slow down,” he said.

Rachel Overlease saw four dead elk while driving east and west on the interstate between Eagle and Gypsum a couple weeks ago.

“That’s a lot, I think,” said Overlease, who has lived in Eagle her whole life.

Elk tracks dot the snow near three holes in a wildlife fence north of the Interstate 70 between Eagle and Gypsum, she said. The elk try to cross the interstate to get to the Eagle River on the south side and drivers end up hitting them, Overlease said.

“It’s a danger to the public,” she said.

A crew of about 22 has been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just to keep Eagle County roads open with the heavy snowfall, said Jim Pitkin, maintenance supervisor for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

They have had difficulty balancing plowing highways and fixing potholes and holes in the fence.

“We are aware of some of the holes and we’re trying to get some of those repaired,” Pitkin said.

“We’re just having a hard time keeping up with everything,” he said.

Wildlife and vehicle collisions accounted for 17 percent of all accidents on the stretch of interstate between 2000 and 2004. So in September, crews began building a new $1.7 million fence that will stretch from Dowd Junction to Eagle on both sides of the interstate.

Work on the fence has been stopped this winter, but the fence is scheduled to be completed later this year, Pitkin said.

Hampton said animals must have some way to cross the interstate. So the Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation are working on finding solutions, such as building underpasses and overpasses for them, he said.

For now, deer and elk cross the road early morning and late afternoon. That unfortunately, is when people drive the most, he said.

“All we can do as a wildlife agency is to encourage people to slow down and be aware,” he said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.


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