Wildlife overpasses in Colorado yield fewer carcasses

Mule deer and other wildlife in Colorado now have three crossings of Highway 9 between Kremmling and Silverthorne as well as several under-crossings. Photo/Allen Best

Far fewer deer carcasses along Highway 9 after several new crossings

by Allen Best

KREMMLING, Colo. — When Colorado wildlife biologists drove along Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling during the 2015-16 winter, they found far fewer carcasses of mule deer than had normally been the case. In a 5-mile segment where 30 were usually found, there were just 3.

The difference? A lot of tall fences, 8 feet high, strung along the highway through the sagebrush-covered valley between Green Mountain Reservoir and Kremmling. But also this: one overpass and three underpasses had been installed to allow mule deer and other animals to cross the highway without getting hit.

Last summer, a second overpass and two underpasses were completed along a 4.5-mile stretch. Michelle Cowardin, a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says data collection is incomplete but it appears that nearly 90 percent fewer carcasses were found along the highway after this past winter.

The two wildlife overpasses are the first in Colorado. Others, however, have been built elsewhere. The most notable in North American are located on the TransCanada Highway in Banff National Park. In recent years, others have been constructed near Pinedale, Wyo., over Interstate 80 in Nevada, and across Highway 93 just south of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.

The wildlife work, part of a larger highway improvement project, cost about $13.8 million. There were both public and private funders. Notable was the $4 million donated by the owner of a nearby ranch and $3.1 million from Grand County. Another $1.2 million in private donations was also collected. Local governments, including Summit County, Silverthorne and Kremmling, chipped in, as well.

Highway 9 is used daily by commuters driving between Kremmling, a small town along the Colorado River, and the resort communities of Summit County, including Frisco, and Breckenridge.

Through the years, there have been several deer-related fatalities. In November 1985, a local ranch couple, Gene and Mimi Ritschard, was killed when a pickup driver swerved and hit them in their sub-compact car head-on. The driver said she swerved to avoid deer.

Had the project not been completed, Cowardin pointed out, the 7,000 crossings documented in just the first winter had the potential to cause accidents.

In southwest Colorado, large arch underpasses were installed under U.S. 550, a highway used to reach Telluride, with wildlife fencing and escape ramps to allow wildlife safe movement under the highway. Underpasses were also installed along U.S. 160, between Durango and Bayfield. Additional wildlife features are planned near Nathrop, between Buena Vista and Salida.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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