March 8, 2022

Bill to Fund Wildlife Crossings Introduced in Legislature

 

Denver, CO (March 8, 2022) A bill in the Colorado State Legislature proposing funding for wildlife road crossing projects across the state was introduced today in the Senate. The bill, Senate Bill 22-151  Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists, was introduced by Senators Jessie Danielson (D-SD20) and Tammy Story (D-SD16) and Reps. Julie McCluskie (D-HD61) and Perry Will (R-HD57) and has support from diverse stakeholders including sportsmen and sportswomen, land and wildlife conservation organizations, and other community leaders. The bill would create a “Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Mitigation Fund,” (Fund) which would allocate $25 million for wildlife crossing projects on stretches of roads and highways with high rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) or where the ability of wildlife to move across the landscape has been hampered by high traffic volumes. 

“The Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists legislation will save lives and money by dramatically reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions that have a $100 million annual fiscal impact on our state and make our roads safer for people and wildlife. These overpasses and underpasses for wildlife pay for themselves over time and it actually costs society less to address the problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions than it costs to do nothing. This bill will make Colorado a leader in the West in being good stewards of our iconic wildlife and will also safeguard motorists traveling on our scenic roadways,” said Colorado State Senator Jessie Danielson, the prime sponsor of the legislation.

WVCs are a significant issue in Colorado, costing not only money, but also the lives of people and wildlife. Colorado law enforcement reports an annual average of nearly 4,000 WVCs, though it is estimated that a more accurate figure is 14,100 when unrecorded collisions are considered. WVCs have tragic consequences, including hundreds of human injuries and some fatalities, the death of thousands of animals, and an annual cost of approximately $80 million in property damage, emergency response, medical treatments, and other costs. This figure does not include the value of lost wildlife—likely $24 million—or the impact on the health of wildlife populations.

Dr. Karen Ekernas, MD, MPH, an emergency physician at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, added,  “Some of the most devastating injuries that I’ve seen in my career have been the result of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The high-speed nature of these accidents can have deadly consequences, sometimes for multiple members of a single family. Any efforts to mitigate these collisions would be an enormous benefit to Colorado’s public health.”

The Fund would help advance projects identified in the Colorado’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) 10-year pipeline of 25 projects with wildlife infrastructure components, as well as projects identified by the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance, state agencies, and county or Tribal governments. It would also provide a much-needed source of matching funds to leverage federal grants under the new wildlife crossing program—$350 million over five years—that was established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The fund would also assist with private land conservation efforts adjacent to crossing projects to ensure their effectiveness is not diminished by future land use or development.

“Since 2015, Denver Zoo has organized community scientist volunteers to place and monitor cameras at wildlife crossing locations, off Interstate 70 at East Vail Pass. The motion-detected photos show evidence of a high level of wildlife activity, and the level of enthusiastic participation in the study shows how much Coloradans care about our local wildlife. We have an opportunity to make a positive impact, by creating safe passages for wildlife, reducing human impacts from collisions, and maintaining the balance of the land. Denver Zoo supports the Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists Act, and respectfully requests legislative action towards its rapid implementation,” noted Erica Elvove, senior vice president for conservation engagement and impact at Denver Zoo and member of the State of Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp committee.

Colorado is a leader in the West when it comes to wildlife crossing solutions, with 64 bridges, culverts – or tunnels – and fencing to exclude animals from roadways and guide them to safe crossings. Time has shown that these crossings are highly effective. For example, in 2015-16, Colorado’s first two wildlife overpasses, five wildlife underpasses, 10.3 miles of wildlife exclusion fencing on both sides of the highway, and other mitigation features were constructed on State Highway 9 between Kremmling and Green Mountain Reservoir. These investments resulted in a 92% reduction in crashes with wildlife reported to law enforcement and a 90% reduction in carcasses. Yet more needs to be done. Even with the state’s significant investment in wildlife crossing infrastructure to date, Colorado Parks & Wildlife estimates that more Western Slope mule deer does are killed each year in WVCs than from the annual hunter harvest. Wildlife losses from vehicle collisions harm wildlife populations, the state’s $62.5 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the outfitter and hunting communities.  

“As a hunter, outfitter and parent who drives his kids to school on a rural highway, the idea that the state is considering allocating serious funding and attention towards wildlife crossings is fantastic,” said Adam Gall, Colorado Chapter board member, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. The numbers of deer and elk that get killed or injured by vehicles, and in turn cause injury to people along the roads we commute on daily is significant. This bill would be a huge win for Colorado’s big game and rural communities alike.”

 

Because so many Coloradans are impacted by WVCs, there is broad bipartisan support for wildlife crossings from voters across the state. In fact, a recent poll found that 73% of voters in Colorado and New Mexico supported wildlife crossing solutions, including building overpasses on highways.

Advocates of this bill give substantial credit to Governor Jared Polis for his 2019 Conserving Colorado's Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors executive order that has helped focus state agencies and resources on protecting habitat for wildlife movement. The concept for creating the Fund was referenced in a 2021 joint policy report issued by the Department of Natural Resources and CDOT that was set in motion by the Governor’s executive order.

Diverse interests, including hunting and fishing organizations, Tribal representatives, wildlife advocates, and local jurisdictions are hopeful that the Colorado State Legislature will pass the Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists into law this session, moving forward a true win-win initiative to make Colorado’s roads safer for people and wildlife.

 

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