Two bears killed on I-70 near Vail |

Two bears killed on I-70 near Vail

Steve Lynn
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Concerned locals speak with Colorado Department of Transportation officials over a large dead black bear on the side of Interstate 70 in 2006. Two bears have been killed by vehicles around Vail in the past two weeks, authorities said. (Vail Daily file)

VAIL, Colo. ” A black bear once crossed in front of Carol Busch’s car on U.S. Highway 24 as she was headed to work in Red Cliff.

The bear stopped and looked at Busch then went over a guardrail and disappeared.

“It really drives home the point that we are sharing their home and they’re super vulnerable when they are trying to travel,” said Busch, director of marketing and communications at the Gore Range Natural Science School in Avon.

Two black bears have been killed by vehicles in the last two weeks on Interstate 70 around Vail, authorities said, and Colorado State Trooper Kevin Hamill has had to deal with both.

A man hit one in Dowd Junction Sunday and a woman hit another one in Vail the week before, Hamill said.

Hamill hopes people will slow down and look out for bears in Dowd Junction, where they often cross the interstate and U.S. Highway 6 from dusk until dawn, he said.

“Maybe we need some bear crossing signs up in Dowd Canyon,” he said.

Bears, whose population ranges from 8,000 to 12,000 in Colorado, also may be wandering into the Eagle Valley in greater numbers this time of year. Their natural food, which includes berries and wild flowers, is not ready yet so more bears may be coming to towns to eat garbage, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“Bears may be more prone this time of year,” Hampton said.

Deer and elk had a similar problem last winter. Because of a harsh and snowy winter, animals had difficulty getting to their food, so they were moving across the interstate to try and find it. Wildlife managers decided to feed starving deer near Eagle and Wolcott for just the third time in almost 25 years.

Authorities also said a significant number of deer and elk were killed by vehicles on the interstate, though they don’t keep statistics.

If people hit a bear on the road, they should call the Division of Wildlife, Hampton said. In almost every case, taking a bear or any part of one is illegal, he said.

“People don’t always report it to us,” Hampton said. “If it’s night-time and somebody hits something, they might not even know what they hit.”

Meanwhile, a multi-million dollar bridge that bears, deer and elk could cross near the summit of Vail Pass lacks funding, officials said. The bridge is supposed to look like a highway bridge from the side, but instead of a roadway on top a path with grass, trees and shrubs is planned. One-and-a-half miles of fencing would extend from the bridge on both sides to funnel animals toward the bridge to cross the interstate.

But the state lacks funding for transportation, and officials cannot even fix dozens of bridges throughout the state that are in “critical” need of repair, said Peter Kozinski of the Colorado Department of Transportation. So a more than multi-million-dollar bridge for animals cannot be built yet, Kozinski said.

“At this point no dollars and no commitment has been made to build it,” he said.

However, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project have found a spot for the bridge, between mile marker 187 and 188 on the interstate, near the summit of Vail Pass.

“There’s definitely been progress” on the bridge, said Julia Kintsch, program director for the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project.

The bear population isn’t suffering now, but bears getting killed by cars or having to be put down after they get into residents’ garbage cans may have a cumulative effect, Kintsch said.

“If we keep having these conflicts, over time… that could have consequences,” she said.

A wildlife fence also could help. In September, crews began building a new $1.7 million fence that will stretch from Dowd Junction to Eagle on both sides of the interstate. The fence is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Wildlife and vehicle collisions accounted for 17 percent of all crashes on the stretch of interstate between 2000 and 2004.