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Gov. Ritter to sign wildlife crossing bill

A Bighorn sheep getting ready to cross U.S. Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin ski area. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

New law may reduce costly auto- animal collisions on state roads

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Transportation officials and conservation groups hope that when Gov. Bill Ritter signs a wildlife crossing bill this Wednesday in Vail, it will mark an important step toward reducing the costly carnage on state highways.

Although wildlife-crossing warning signs are already a familiar sight along highways, the new law will enable the Department of Transportation to reduce speed limits and increase fines for speeding in those areas.

I-70 and I-25 were excluded from the final version of the bill, but there are many other zones where the new law should help reduce the number of collisions, saving human and animal lives — and money, by reducing the amount of time state employees spend on removing animal carcasses and dealing with wrecks.

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Lawmakers to vote on highway wildlife crossing bill

A herd of bighorn sheep climb a steep slope after crossing U.S. Highway 6 near Arapahoe Basin ski area. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

House Bill 1238 would identify wildlife crossing areas, reduce speed limits and up fines; new web site launched to educate drivers and get more information about crossing areas

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Traffic on I-70 may be an inconvenience for powder-loving skiers, but it’s a matter of life and death for the many animals that depend on habitat on either side of the highway for survival. Every year, thousands of animals are killed by cars, and the consequences for the drivers and passengers can be equally serious.

Between 1995 and 2005 there were 30,245 animal-vehicle collisions on Colorado’s roadways, according to the most recent statistics available from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Twenty nine of the crashes resulted in fatalities, 2,505 resulted in injuries and 27,7111 resulted in property damage.

Most of the collisions (79 percent) are with deer and elk (13 percent). The chances of hitting an animal during the next year are estimated at one in 163. According to the Center for Native Ecosystems, the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions more than doubled between 1998 to 2004.

Several groups, including CDOT, are working to reduce the number of collisions, and March 18, the Colorado Legislature can take an important step in this direction by voting for House Bill 1238 in a committee hearing.

The bill would identify wildlife crossing zones, reduce the speed limit in those areas and increase fines for speeders. Slowing traffic in areas where animals are known to cross highways gives drivers more time to react.

The Boulder-based Center for Native Ecosystems has an online petition in support of the bill. E-mail addresses and telephone numbers for state lawmakers are listed here.

The full text of the bill is posted in a Scribd.com window at the end of this article.

The average cost per collision (based on insurance claims) is $2,800. A national insurance group estimates that the total cost nationally for collisions with deer is about $1.1 billion in vehicle damage.

Highway managers and wildlife advocates are also trying to learn more about where animals cross highways. The coalition of groups launched a new web site last November that enables motorists to report wildlife specifically along I-70 between Golden and Glenwood Springs. Continue reading

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