Wildlife gets a break on Highway 82 | VailDaily.com

Wildlife gets a break on Highway 82

Donna Gray

Winter means many things to many people, but for motorists on Highway 82, it means more deer and elk on the road. An area that sees frequent movement of elk across the highway and a high number of wildlife and car collisions is the upscale subdivision of Aspen Glen, about seven miles south of Glenwood Springs.The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), aware of increasing wildlife accidents on this stretch of highway, has built three earthen ramps which help deer and elk cross the highway without getting stuck in traffic.This week, maintenance crews from CDOT in Glenwood Springs are completing three ramps that will allow elk and deer to cross a high wildlife fence on the east side of the highway across from Aspen Glen.According to a recent CDOT study, collisions with wildlife occur most frequently during the fall months when animals are mating and moving to winter ranges. The highest frequency of collisions is between dawn and dusk, from the middle of October into November.CDOT has also tracked an increasing number of accidents over the last three years. They rose from 2,237 in 1999 to 4,047 in 2004, due to new land development and increased traffic.On Highway 82 between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, CSP reported 125 wildlife collisions in 2004 out of a total of 538.Wildlife collisions are now the third-leading cause of traffic accidents on state highways, behind speeding and inattentive driving. Those numbers are based on accidents reported by the Colorado State Patrol, but CDOT believes they represent only half of the number of actual accidents, said CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks.Winter herdThe golf course community of Aspen Glen is home to a sizable herd of elk during the winter months. Herds from Spring Valley east of the highway and from Crystal River Ranch to the west coalesce at Aspen Glen.”It’s their winter range,” said Glenwood Springs Colorado Division of Wildlife area manager Perry Will. Aspen Glen’s green, manicured lawns and golf course “are ice cream to deer and elk.”The ramp “gives them an escape route so they’re not trapped between the (highway) and the wildlife fence,” said CDOT maintenance supervisor D’Wayne Gaymon. “Basically it’s a way to get them off the highway so they don’t get stuck there. It keeps them from running back and forth” along the fence.Gaymon has high hopes for the ramp.”It’s been proven in other parts of Colorado, and Utah uses them a lot,” he said.In fact, CDOT installed such a ramp near the entrance to Ridgway State Park north of the town of Ridgway. Shanks said a camera installed on the fence next to the ramp has shown elk and deer using it to cross the wildlife fence.”A lot of elk are using it,” she said. “The reason it’s so successful is because it was (built on) a known game trail.”Will said CDOT will install about four miles of wildlife fence on both sides of Highway 82 from about the Colorado Mountain College turnoff for four miles south.CDOT has also used over- and underpasses to get elk and deer across busy highways. But they are much more expensive than ramps, costing millions of dollars to construct versus a couple of thousand each for earth ramps.”Ramps can be used in a lot of different locations very economically,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.Driver safety tipsHere are some steps to take when you’re driving to help avoid hitting deer and elk:• Slow down at night and watch out for shining eyes• If you see a deer or elk in the roadway, brake, don’t swerve• Be extra alert at dawn and dusk• If you see wildlife alongside the road, slow down and pass carefully as they may bolt into the roadVail Daily, Vail, Colorado CO

Support Local Journalism