Drivers need to be aware of deer, elk lingering in lower elevations, officials warn
While the days of driving snowy and icy road conditions are ending, area drivers need be aware of other obstructions on the road as deer and elk roam the roadsides.
Over the past few weeks especially, deer and elk carcasses have been a regular sight along Highway 82, Interstate 70 and just about any road headed into or out of Glenwood Springs. Crews began removing many of the carcasses this past week.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said the reason for the recent increase in roadkill is likely the result of the extra snowy winter, which pushed deer and other animal species to lower elevations.
Porras said because the past few springs followed milder winters, residents aren’t used to the wildlife being as low as they’ve been in recent weeks.
As the snow melted in the lower elevations, the animals migrated to areas where greening vegetation could be found, including roadsides and medians.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s roadkill data, Region 3, which includes all of northwest Colorado, has consistently had one of the highest concentrations of deer roadkill in the state along with Region 5, which includes most of southwest Colorado.
From 2013 to 2017, the two regions ranked at the top among CDOT’s five regions in terms of deer roadkill by a wide margin.
In 2018, 1,365 deer were reportedly hit by vehicles in Region 5, compared with 685 deer in Region 3. The next closest, Region 2, which includes most of southeast Colorado, had 402 deer roadkill deaths reported.
While 2018 numbers showed a higher spike in roadkill for northwest Colorado during the months of October to December compared with the April to May stretch, typically the springtime has seen the highest spike in roadkill numbers for the region.
Aside from seasonal patterns, certain roadways in Garfield County have typically seen higher concentrations of reported roadkill incidents than others.
While deer can be found foraging off of just about any area road, CDOT’s numbers show a sharp increase in roadkill at particular spots on Highway 82 and I-70 for the area.
In 2018, the most roadkill was reported around mile marker 110 through 130 off I-70, and from mile marker 0 to 30 east along Highway 82 toward Aspen, with the highest concentration between mile marker 20 to 30 near Basalt.
With the recent increase in roadkill incidents, state officials have put up a “Watch for Wildlife” electronic road sign on Colorado 82 just as drivers are leaving Glenwood Springs toward Aspen.
CDOT spokesperson Lisa Schwantes said state officials put up two additional signs on 82; one by the Aspen airport and the other near Carbondale, warning drivers to beware of wildlife.
Matt Yamashita, CPW district wildlife manager for the Basalt area, said he had discussions with CDOT in early March regarding adding wildlife to the highway signs after seeing an increased number of deer carcasses between Glenwood Springs and Aspen Glen.
He said the decision was made because it both served as a seasonal reminder and they were placed in “areas where we have historical conflict issues.”
Yamashita added that wildlife officials have historically had discussions with CDOT and Colorado State Patrol regarding extending the wildlife fencing and possibly adding a wildlife overpass or underpass to that area of Colorado 82.
Currently, wildlife fencing is in place between mile markers 7 and 19, according to CDOT’s list of designated wildlife crossings. Yamashita questioned what impact a separated wildlife crossing would have to the area’s deer population.
He explained that such wildlife crossings would dramatically impact the local deer’s migration patterns, and it may not benefit local herds on a population scale because it wouldn’t provide the herd access to better habitat.
“(We wouldn’t) be achieving anything from a management perspective,” he added.
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