Wildlife fencing proves effective along Highway 82 near Aspen
ASPEN, Colorado- Drivers familiar with Highway 82 at night clutch the wheel and keep their eyes peeled for deer and elk darting out.
And with good reason. Statistics tracked by the state show that wildlife-vehicle collisions accounted for about 20 percent of all accidents between Glenwood Springs and the outskirts of Aspen in 2005, the latest year available.
But the state found an effective tool to reduce the collisions this winter on one of the deadliest stretches of road for wildlife, and one of the costliest for humans. A fence erected along a 4-mile stretch adjacent to the Aspen Glen golf community drastically reduced roadkill and collisions, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife officers. Statistics tracked by the Colorado State Patrol back that hunch.
John Groves, the wildlife officer for the Carbondale district, said he saw only one elk killed this winter between mile marker 7 and 11 on Highway 82, where the wildlife fence was completed in November. The elk was killed early in the season just as the fence was being completed, he said. Typically there were 10 to 15 elk hit and killed per winter by vehicles in that stretch, according to Groves.
“It definitely reduced the number of road kills in the area,” he said.
State patrol records show that deer, elk and other animals caused nine accidents between mile markers 7 and 11 between Dec. 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010, according to Capt. Rich Duran. The prior winter, before the fence was built, there were 27 accidents involving animals in that same stretch over the same period, he said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation built the north and south sides of the fence last fall. It had planned to install nearly 16,000 linear feet of eight-foot high fencing, but boosted the amount to 27,000 linear feet because bids came in favorably.
Ten wildlife escape ramps were included in the project so that wildlife that somehow got trapped in the roadway between the fences could find a way out. The ramps provide access from the roadway side, but not from the shoulders onto the roadway. CDOT is still evaluating data to see if the earthen ramps are effective.
The Aspen Glen area was selected for the wildlife fencing because history shows a high rate of vehicle-wildlife collisions. In 2005, collisions accounted for 63 percent of the total accidents along that 4-mile stretch. There were 63 accidents; 39 involved wildlife.
The project cost $423,810. It was paid for through federal Hazard Elimination Funding acquired by CDOT.
Groves and Perry Will, the area wildlife manager or top DOW official in the Aspen area, said they would welcome more fencing. The wildlife experts said deer and elk on the north side of Highway 82 aren’t being deprived of access to the Roaring Fork River by the fencing. The animals don’t need open water, Groves said. They can acquire it from snow or nutrients they are eating.
Will said the fencing isn’t closing their access to critical habitat. Elk herds have tended in recent years to hang out on the golf course fairways and greens of Aspen Glen out of convenience, not necessity, he said. Their natural behavior is to rely on critical winter range on south-facing hillsides.
Groves said he doesn’t believe the elk were performing end runs around the fencing this winter. However, other stretches of Highway 82 in the midvalley saw high incidences of wildlife-vehicle collisions this winter.
CDOT plans to install 43,000 linear feet of wildlife fencing between mile markers 11 and 16, and upvalley from the intersection of Highways 82 and 133. Work on the $1.5 million project will begin in summer and run through fall 2010, according to CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks. Federal funds were acquired for the job.
Funds have been acquired to design a fencing project between mile markers 16 and 20, but no construction funds are available yet.