Fryingpan bighorns ending up roadkill | AspenTimes.com
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Fryingpan bighorns ending up roadkill

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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A Fryingpan Valley resident has started a campaign to get her neighbors to slow down so no more bighorn sheep die on the canyon’s only road.Katya Ruston said she felt she had to do something after hearing about a vehicle hitting and killing a lamb Sunday. She said she wants to residents to pay closer attention to their driving.At least four bighorns have died after vehicles hit them this winter, said Kelly Wood of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.”It seems like an average would be more like one per year,” said Wood, who has been the game warden for the Basalt district since 2000.Heavy snowfall this winter has driven the sheep to lower elevations, Wood said. Lately they have been attracted to the areas around the Fryingpan River and along Frying Pan Road because the grass is greening there first.Snowpack levels in the Fryingpan Valley range from 9 percent to 27 percent above average, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.Wood found the carcasses of two rams and one lamb that died in crashes. She couldn’t find a fourth animal, but she was certain it died based on the amount of blood it lost at the scene before scrambling away from the road.Ruston said she has seen incredible numbers of bighorns on or near the road this winter.

“There are little babies everywhere,” she said.

It’s forced her to change her own driving habits. She has slowed down and tried to stay more aware that they could be present.

“I’ve had them jump right in front of me,” she said.Ruston initially figured visiting anglers or tourists unfamiliar with the high concentration of bighorns in the valley were the ones speeding along and hitting animals. An investigation of accidents, however, showed locals have been involved in the accidents.That’s understandable, Ruston said, because Fryingpan residents are familiar with the narrow, twisty road and often exceed the speed limits. She has spoken to all her friends and acquaintances in the valley about the issue this week. Ruston, an artist, is also seeking support from the wildlife division and Eagle County to paint signs to place along the roadway to try to draw attention to the problem.The bighorns have popped up most frequently between mile markers 1 and 4 on Frying Pan Road, Wood said. However, they can be found all the way up to mile marker 7.

“If people actually went the speed limit through there, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Wood said.While the road kills aren’t endangering the bighorn herd, the animals are more rare than deer and elk, and they’re found in fewer places throughout the Roaring Fork drainage. The herd from the Fryingpan is used for releases elsewhere in Colorado. Wildlife officials trapped four of the bighorns this winter and sent them to Battlement Mesa.”The population is healthy, but it’s not like we’ve got a lot of them,” Wood said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com


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