PROMO 660 x 440 Animal - Mule deer - CPW

Colorado lawmakers aim for federal wildlife crossing funds

Mule deer. Courtesy CPW.
Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Proponents of a bill aiming to reduce collisions between wildlife and motorists say it will make Colorado a leader in the West for being good stewards of iconic wildlife, and making the state's scenic roadways safer. 

Senate Bill 151 was introduced this week, co-sponsored by Sen. Jessie Danielson - D-Wheat Ridge. She said too many animals are lost each year when they stray into traffic, and it's also very costly and sometimes deadly for drivers.

"We have a solution that would end both of those problems," said Danielson. "Our new bill will provide much-needed safety for folks on the road to avoid costly collisions, and protect the wildlife that we know and love so very well in the state of Colorado."

Thousands of animals are killed each year by motorists, and collisions also account for $80 million a year in property damage, emergency response, medical treatments and other costs. 

SB 151 would create a fund for some 25 wildlife crossing projects on roads and highways with the highest rates of collisions, and where traffic has made it hard for wildlife to access important habitat.

Scientists have identified a section of Interstate 70 near Vail as a prime location for reducing collisions. Stefan Ekernas, director of Colorado field conservation with the Denver Zoo, has been working with the group Rocky Mountain Wild to set up and monitor camera traps since 2015.

"And we have indeed found really high densities of all kinds of animals," said Ekernas. "From deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, to including some lynx - a threatened species - and mountain lions and bears."

The measure would invest $25 million of state money - which is projected to tap nearly $350 million in matching federal infrastructure dollars over five years to build overpasses, underpasses, fencing and other strategies to keep wildlife away from highways and roads.

"And in return from the federal government," said Danielson, "we will be getting enough resources to complete almost every single wildlife crossing project that is shovel ready, and will help protect this wildlife and protect motorists on the road almost immediately."