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Local group addresses wildlife collisions

Locations: News Published

Often while commuting up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, motorists see what we’ve become accustomed to referring to as “roadkill” on the side of the highway. These animals are the victims of vehicle collisions. 

On a personal note, this reporter recently took the life, inadvertently, of a majestic bull elk in exactly this way. The most difficult aspect of the matter was watching the elk struggle to get back up when there was no hope. Fortunately, there was the means available to end his suffering and Colorado Parks and Wildlife was able to retrieve the lifeless body within an hour of his last breath.

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The point being, it can happen to anyone despite their best effort to drive safely. 

On Monday, Dec. 19, local Cecily DeAngelo launched a new organization, Roaring Fork Safe Passages (RFSP), to tackle this issue on a macro scale here in the Valley. 

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After reading an article in the New York Times regarding the efficacy of wildlife collision mitigation infrastructures, as well as personally witnessing the aftermath of a deer being hit, DeAngelo sought to curb the tragic trend. 

According to a press release from the budding organization, elk populations in the Roaring Fork Watershed have declined significantly. It goes on, “Throughout our watershed, calf-elk survival on average has dropped to nearly just 30 calves per 100 cows.” 

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Reportedly, a large part of the issue is connecting viable wildlife habitats throughout the watershed so animals themselves can freely commute, uninterrupted by barrelling automobiles.

“It is widely understood that protecting and restoring landscape-scale habitat for elk (and other wildlife) is critical to restoring the vitality of this iconic species,” the press release continues. “Connecting large swaths of habitat is equally important, and highway overpasses for elk that involve just an acre or two can open up thousands of acres of good but currently inaccessible or underutilized habitat.” 

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DeAngelo pointed to the success of mitigation infrastructure along Colorado Highway 9: seven large wildlife crossing structures and 10.3 miles of wildlife exclusion fence between Kremmling and Green Mountain Reservoir. In March 2021, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s final monitoring report for that infrastructure — implemented in 2016 — was released. According to the report, “Altogether, the wildlife crossings, continuous fencing, and associated mitigation features achieved major safety benefits, helping to decrease WVC [wildlife vehicle collision] crashes reported to law enforcement by 92% and supplementary carcass counts by 90% relative to preconstruction levels.”

DeAngelo is working closely with Tom Cardamone of the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative (WBI). RFSP intends to build upon WBI’s recently completed “Roaring Fork Watershed Biodiversity and Connectivity Study” which outlines hindrances to the survival of local elk and deer populations. A key finding from that three-year-long study was that “significant opportunities exist to restore degraded habitats and improve connectivity, especially along major transportation corridors and near developed areas.”

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In its year-end report, WBI recognized RFSP for its endeavor, stating, “Beyond contributing to the safety of wildlife and motorists, this initiative will knit back together our road-fragmented watershed, a primary goal of the biodiversity study.”

In fact, WBI is the acting fiscal sponsor of RFSP. So, donations, grants and so forth meant for RFSP are channeled through WBI and earmarked as such. 

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RFSP received a $10,000 grant from Aspen Ski Company’s Environment Foundation to support its launch. RFSB has a goal to raise $150,000 by June 1, 2023 to support its own study and produce a mitigation plan specific to State Highways 82 and 133 — pinpointing best placement for new infrastructure or optimizing existing structures.

“This prioritization study and mitigation plan is a crucial step to receiving state and federal funding to construct the mitigation structures,” reads RFSP’s press release. With a comprehensive study and mitigation plan to back up RFSP’s eventual proposal, DeAngelo is confident the funding for tangible infrastructure will follow suit.

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“I was born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it has long been an interest of mine to protect wildlife in our watershed,” DeAngelo stated. “Animals need infrastructure, and where it has been properly built and designed, there is great success in minimizing wildlife vehicle collisions.”

For more information regarding RFSP or to make a contribution, visit roaringforksafepassages.org 

Tags: #dear #elk #Roaring Fork Safe Passages #Roaring Fork Valley #ungulate herds #Watershed Biodiversity Initiative #wildlife vehicle collisions
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