In late October, three state agencies issued a joint announcement reminding motorists that animal-vehicle collisions (AVC) increase this time of year when animals migrate to their wintering habitats. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), and the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), joined forces to warn motorists to be alert because, "Wildlife are on the move!"
Local drivers should be particularly cautious because many Delta County roadways pass through wildlife territory. Animals, particularly migrating deer can appear suddenly at any time of the day or night.
"As days shorten, temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, many wildlife species move from their high elevation summer ranges in the mountains and plateaus and travel to lower elevation winter ranges in the foothills and valleys," said Mark Lawler, CDOT biologist. "The essential habitats for these animals are intersected by Colorado's highways, forcing wildlife to cross roadways in search of food, water, space and shelter."
According to the joint agency announcement, over the last four years Colorado "has seen a rise in the number of reported wildlife related collisions. State agencies track reported collisions with wildlife. The statistics count all types of animals including small and large mammals― from raccoon and skunk to moose and elk. However, the most significant number of AVCs occur with deer. Last year in 2016, agencies reported more than 4,600 deer killed on Colorado highways."
The majority of animal-vehicle collisions occur from dusk to dawn, when wildlife are more active and, unfortunately, are more difficult to see. The joint announcement stresses that the best driving practice during fall and winter is to be alert and to drive with caution and slow down, especially at night.
If a wildlife collision does occur, CSP Captain Adrian Driscol offers this advice: "Drivers should brake, look, and steer. Brake, slow down and concentrate on keeping control of your vehicle. Look around and be aware of your surroundings, especially other vehicles in front or behind you. Then steer and move your vehicle to a safe position off the road." Driscol added, "If you see one deer or elk, more than likely you can expect others crossing the highway too."
Colorado collision statistics reflect an increase in animal-vehicle collisions and pinpoint highways that are major corridors for wildlife on the move. CDOT divides the state into five regions. Delta County is in Region 3 (Northwest Colorado) where animal-vehicle collision statistics for all types of animals have steadily increased from 2013 to 2016. The CDOT animal-vehicle collision statistics for Region 3 are: 2013 (1,597 AVCs); 2014 (1,627); 2015 (1,859); and 2016 (2,086). In 2016, collisions involving deer in Region 3 totaled 1,455.
Three areas in the Northwest Colorado region were identified by CDOT as "highway corridors with significant numbers of AVC." These are Colorado Highway 13 north of Craig to the Wyoming state line (118 deer collisions reported in 2016); Highway 550 south of Montrose (97 deer); and I-70 from Vail to Eagle (78 deer).
Collision data are compiled and analyzed to help CDOT determine where to place structures to keep animals and motorists safe -- such as installing tall fencing or building a wildlife underpass/overpass. This summer, several state and federal agencies met at the first-ever 'Wildlife and Transportation Summit' to establish partnerships and develop an action plan to improve highway safety and protect wildlife populations and their movement corridors.
An example of improvements is a stretch of Highway 9 in north-central Colorado between Green Mountain Reservoir and Kremmling. According to Dean Riggs, CPW Deputy Regional Manager, installation of two wildlife overpasses, five wildlife underpasses, and high wildlife fencing has resulted in "an 87 percent decrease in animal-vehicle collisions." The Highway 9 project may serve as a model for future projects across the state.