Spring cleaning roadkill throughout the valley: Whose job is it? | AspenTimes.com

Spring cleaning roadkill throughout the valley: Whose job is it?

Deer and elk are numerous around Highway 82 and often end up as roadkill. The Colorado Department of Transportation cleans up the roadkill on a regular basis, generally at night, when there is not as much traffic.
Kara K. Pearson/Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Driving on Highway 82 and around the Roaring Fork Valley, it might seem like roadkill carcasses are taking the place of mile markers.

It is difficult to know for certain if this season is seeing more collisions between drivers and wildlife or if the melting snow is uncovering the byproduct of winter accidents. 

But whose responsibility it is to pick up roadkill is clearer. Generally, a road will fall under one of three umbrellas: Colorado Department of Transportation, Pitkin County, or a private road. 

State Highway 82 falls under CDOT’s purview. But in the hierarchy of CDOT’s priorities, picking up killed roadside animals falls behind most others. 

“First is managing emergency road closures like the rockslide on McClure Pass, which is taking place this week. That’s the first level of priority. Second is guardrail hits, so that’d be emergency repairs to guardrails being damaged,” said CDOT’s Northwest Colorado Regional Communication Manager Elise Thatcher. “The next priority is wildlife fencing, hits, or damage repairs, and the next priority is fixing potholes.”

Roadkill pickup is after all of those, and their office has been flooded with high-priority emergencies recently like a sinkhole near Paonia, a mudslide in Glenwood Canyon, and a rockslide on McClure Pass. 

But drivers can call CDOT 24/7 to report hit wildlife on Highway 82. Late-night collisions are common, Thatcher said, and CDOT will respond immediately to remove the animal. Rotting carcasses bring their own set of road hazards. 

Responsibility for picking up roadkill on private roads falls to the owner. 

For county roads like Owl Creek, Brush Creek, or McLain Flats roads, Pitkin County Public Works is responsible for picking up roadkill.

Collisions between wildlife and cars are less frequent on those roads, according to Deputy Public Works Director Scott Mattice, likely because of lower speed limits and traffic levels. 

“Some herds of animals that stick around in areas for a time may be impacted because they’re hanging out there,” he said. “We haven’t seen a huge increase in animals, but on our roads, our speeds are quite a bit lower.”

The Public Works Office is also responsible for filling potholes, and spring is peak pothole season. Mattice said his office balances the need to address the potholes with picking up roadkill. 

“If we’re out filling potholes, depending on where the animal is, we might not get to it the same day,” he said.

He said that on rare occasions his office will partner with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to help clear a hit animal from Highway 82 to help out CDOT when traffic safety is an immediate concern, as their office is based in Grand Junction.

But this year, it seems like spring brought more roadside carcasses than normal. And in a way, that is true. 

Kurtis Tesch is the Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager for the Aspen area. He said that this year’s high snowpack and late-arriving spring weather have contributed to animal behavior keeping wildlife closer to the roads. 

“With the increased snow load that we had this year, animals are pushed down longer. The reason why they’re by the road is because that’s what melts off first, and so the deer take advantage of the green up before they move up,” Tesch said. “And they can’t move up until the snow starts to melt, so that’s why we’re seeing more animals die by the road and more roadkill.”

CPW is not responsible for maintenance or picking up roadkill on any particular roadways in the area. But responding agencies will call CPW to pick up hit mountain lions, bears, moose, or any animal with monetary value, like a trophy deer or elk. 

If they have to put down an injured animal, CPW will donate the meat. For hides and antlers, there is a yearly auction. 

To better protect drivers and wildlife, Thatcher and Tesch said the most important thing to do is just slow down. Wildlife fences in the valley have openings, and when animals are by the road, it is impossible to perfectly predict which direction the animal will go if spooked. 

“Animals are right on the side of the road, and they’re not always going to duck back into a ditch, if they came from the other side of the road,” Tesch said. “Don’t try to anticipate them and just slow down.”

Along with animals by the roadways, springtime brings out wildlife mothers and their young, plus hungry bears. He said to be vigilant in keeping food and waste locked up to avoid inadvertently attracting bears and to keep contact with young at a minimum if encountered somewhere like Rio Grande Trail.