Missouri Heights woman begins campaign to reduce local road kill | AspenTimes.com

Missouri Heights woman begins campaign to reduce local road kill

Jeremy Heiman

This time of year, one of the hazards of bicycling on Highway 82 or any of the valley’s other roads is gagging at the stench of rotting carcasses.

The number of deer killed on the valley’s highways and byways quickly caught the attention of Missouri Heights resident Andi Johnson, a relative newcomer to the valley. As a result, Johnson has begun an informal campaign to try to reduce the number of animals killed on the valley’s roads.

Johnson says she wants to create more awareness of wildlife among valley drivers. She has lived in Alaska, Montana, Oregon and Washington, but she said she’s never seen a place with less public awareness on this issue than Colorado.

In other states, she said, the possibility of deer collisions are kept in the front of people’s minds by public service spots on radio, by posters, newspaper ads and school campaigns. But there’s not much going on here, she said.

“When I started driving here, I’d see deer grazing along the side of the road in the evening,” Johnson said. “In the morning, I’d go by again, and there would be dead deer there. People should know that deer cross the road at night.”

Johnson said she’s done some research on the Web. She said she’s found that the estimates for economic losses nationwide due to highway accidents involving deer amount to $1 billion annually. But no figures are available locally or for Western Colorado, she said, because no studies have been done recently.

Mule deer populations in Colorado have been low recently, a trend attributed by wildlife experts to loss of winter habitat, competition from growing elk herds and other problems.

But highway kills make a significant contribution, too. Johnson said Colorado State Patrol officers told her that more than 200 vehicle/deer collisions have been reported in both Garfield and Eagle County since 1997. Many more go unreported

Johnson said she’d like to start a local nonprofit organization devoted to wildlife preservation, but money is a problem. Money is needed for research, for public awareness programs, and for collision-prevention devices.

Infrared detectors are in use in some places, Johnson said. These devices, intended to reduce deer collisions, sense the presence of an animal on or near a road and trigger a lighted sign with a warning such as “Animals on road.” These things aren’t exactly a scenic attraction, but they work, she said.

“People complain that having a road sign along the highway would be ugly. But having rotting carcasses along the road, that’s ugly,” she said. The state of Colorado isn’t pursuing this new technology, Johnson said, because of budget problems.

Fencing is one of the most effective methods of keeping animals off highways, Johnson said. Some stretches of Highway 82 are suitable for fencing, she said, but in the midvalley, so many driveways enter the highway that fencing would not be of any use.

Other avenues that Johnson is investigating include promotion of public transportation, lobbying for regulations requiring that developers leave migration routes and seasonal habitat open and lobbying for enforcement of speed limits.

Deer at night are visible at about 200 feet, she said, but it takes an average of 315 feet to stop a car going 55 mph, Johnson said.

Things that don’t work, her research has revealed, include simple signs, even those with a flashing yellow light. “People become immune to those,” she said. Deer whistles on car bumpers are also ineffective, she said.

But public awareness campaigns do work, Johnson said, at least to a degree. There’s a 20-percent decrease in road kill when campaigns are launched, she said, and they are especially effective during migratory seasons, the spring and fall.

Johnson said she’s e-mailed Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and telephoned Gov. Owens’ office without a reply. She has met with Division of Wildlife officials, who were enthusiastic about her ideas, but short on budget. She’s hoping to get more people involved.

“It just baffles me that people who live here don’t see this,” she said. “Why do we live here? I guarantee you that 95 percent of the people would say `because it’s beautiful.’ But we’re urbanizing this area so much that habitat is just disappearing.”

“The more people who call the Department of Transportation and say `This is a concern of mine,’ the sooner they’ll start to do something,” she added.

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