By Nancy Shanks
Special to The SUN
Spring migration may be winding down, but wildlife are still present near highways, particularly from dusk to dawn.
As of June 1, those roadside reminders to slow down at night in specifically designated “wildlife corridors” are outside the enforcement period. It’s up to motorists this summer to simply do what’s always been recommended by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and numerous other agencies and wildlife advocates.
“In our state, it just makes good safe sense to slow down and drive with extra caution in wildlife areas, particularly at night,” Colorado State Patrol Capt. Rich Duran said. “If you live here, you know. Wildlife are always present and when it’s dark, they are moving and we cannot see them as clearly — slowing down gives all motorists that extra protection necessary to avoid a collision.”
Wildlife legislation, sponsored in 2010 by Rep. Kathleen Curry and Sen. Gail Schwartz (and several non-governmental organizations, listed below) called for lowered nighttime speeds and doubled fines for speeding at night in designated “wildlife crossing zones.” (There are no fines for hitting an animal.)
From Oct. 1 through June 1, fines are doubled for speeding in all signed zones (see more about the bill, its sponsors and zones on a press release posted at www.coloradodot.info/news/2012-news-releases/10-2012/wildlife-on-the-move).
The lowered nighttime speed legislation is just one attempt to mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) on Colorado’s state highways. CDOT — in consultation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife — continues to construct wildlife fence, escape ramps, deer guards, underpasses and more, as well as run pilot projects in high-collision areas to help bring WVCs down (press releases on recent projects are posted online).
“There are a number of things we can do, and all projects focus on not only driver safety but also what is reasonable and responsible for wildlife and their migration patterns,” CDOT Wildlife Program Manager Jeff Peterson said. “Our wildlife is a big reason people come to visit and live in Colorado. CDOT works to ensure that our roads are safe for motorists; but we also take into consideration the impacts motorists have on wildlife and do what we can to minimize those impacts whenever possible.”
CDOT may construct a wildlife feature as part of a current highway improvement project — oftentimes this is guided by the environmental study that highway has undergone. In other areas, wildlife mitigation is a stand-alone project where a high percentage of WVCs are present.
“When we plan or implement any kind of wildlife mitigation for our roadways, we always look at data over a five- to 10-year period and discuss these solutions with Colorado Parks and Wildlfe,” CDOT Region 5 Traffic and Safety Engineer Mike McVaugh said. “Good, knowledgeable resources and several years of data help us make the right decisions in reducing the potential for wildlife-vehicle collisions.”
Data for the period between 1999 and 2011 show various trends, most notable being that WVCs have been on a bit of a downward trend since 2006.
“Any time we see a downward trend in wildlife-vehicle collisions, that’s certainly encouraging,” Peterson said. “Factors such as wildlife population trends and weather patterns certainly play a part in WVCs, but I can’t help but think that increased driver awareness, the creation of safe locations for wildlife to cross and strategic fencing schemes all contribute to reducing WVCs.”
Of the many wildlife mitigation projects CDOT has constructed statewide, some focus on changing driver behavior (real-time detection, lowered speed limits, signs), while others are designed to alter animal behavior (fencing, ramps, underpasses). More projects are planned for future construction seasons.