Watch out, it’s time again for road kill
EAGLE COUNTY – A lot of people who hit animals on the highways take the critters home. But a freezer full of meat isn’t a fair trade for a smashed-up car.
A lot of animals are hit and killed by vehicles in Eagle County. In fact, Sgt. Shawn Olmstead of the Colorado State Patrol estimated that between 10 percent and 15 percent of all crashes on Interstate 70 in the winter are caused by animals.As many as two of every five calls Big Steve’s Towing owner Steve Carver and his drivers answer in the winter are animal accidents, he said. Of those accidents, perhaps a quarter of the drivers who hit animals take advantage of the state’s road kill law. That law lets police officers write permits that allow drivers to legally take animals that have been hit and use them for meat.But the crashes can be devastating.”It can total a car,” Carver said. “They’ll go right through the windshield, especially in little sports cars.”With traffic growing along the state’s highways animal-caused crashes are becoming more common, and keeping animals off highways is something state highway officials have been working on for years.
Over this winter, the Colorado Department of Transportation is starting an experiment between Durango and Bayfield in the southwest corner of the state. That experiment will place motion-detecting lights along the roadsides. That will light up areas where animals often graze during the winter, and, in theory, will alert drivers to the presence of animals. In Eagle County, there’s a wildlife fence along part of the highway between Wolcott and Eagle, and in the winter, signs are posted warning motorists that animals may be on or near the road.”We’re trying to figure out the best way to handle it as the population and traffic grows,” said Peter Kosinski, regional engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.The effort to keep animals off I-70 goes back more than a decade. Several miles of tall wildlife fence were put up by the state after the winter of 1992-93, in which countless deer and elk were killed on the highway between Wolcott and Eagle.The fence works, sort of.”Wildlife will follow the fence until they hit private property,” Olmstead said. The state doesn’t build fences on private property, so animals cross the highway when they hit the end of a fence.
“Last year we had a morning with 12 or 13 accidents when the animals got caught on the highway between the fences,” Olmstead said. “That was really bad.”If drivers don’t fill their freezers with the animals they hit, the cleanup is usually left to Colorado Department of Transportation road crews, Kosinski said.In many cases, an animal that’s been hit is too badly damaged to be used for meat.”You’re normally better off with an elk because they’re bigger,” Carver said. “Deer are usually too beat up to use.”If drivers who hit animals don’t use them, the meat can still be used. Carver used to be a partner in a game processing company. In those days, he would take usable animals drivers didn’t want, process the meat and then give it back to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The state agency, in turn, donates the meat to food banks.But hitting a big animal still stinks.”My wife hit an elk about two months ago with my pickup,” Olmstead said. “It did extensive damage.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado