Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Summit highlights
The Summit was very good October 16-17 and so we want to share the highlights written by Kara van Hoose of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. CWF participates in the Wildlife and Transportation Alliance.
Wildlife & Transportation Summit highlights the successes of recent policies and projects
Oct. 18, 2023
2023 Fall Wildlife on the Move: Wildlife & Transportation Summit highlights the successes of recent policies and projects
CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — As snow storms begin to develop in the high country, big game herds will move to lower elevations seeking vegetation and water sources. These movements across Colorado’s terrain mean wildlife will be crossing roads and highways more frequently as they push toward their winter ranges. Motorists need to be more diligent when driving, especially between dusk and dawn, when wildlife-vehicle collisions are more likely to occur.
While motorists can make a difference by being more conscientious when driving, the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance is also working to resolve conflict between animals and vehicles. This week, the Alliance brought together like-minded partners from several agencies, municipalities, tribes and organizations at the 2023 Wildlife & Transportation Summit held in Douglas County.
“It was exciting to see the diverse partners come together and hear about their interests, passions and commitments to help the state of Colorado address the drastically high rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions,” said Dan Gibbs, executive director for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “Let’s harness the energy in this room to continue to identify opportunities for projects and hone in on the highway sites that will best benefit from mitigation features like overpasses, underpasses and high wildlife fencing.”
A highlight of this year’s summit was a field trip to two of several wildlife underpasses recently built along the Interstate 25 corridor between Colorado Springs and Castle Rock.
“Prior to these wildlife features being built and included in the I-25 Gap project a few years ago, this was one of the last areas remaining on the front range where we could connect large animal movements from the plains, across this corridor, to the Rocky Mountains,” explained Chuck Attardo, CDOT I-25 South Corridor Environmental Manager. “So this I-25 corridor is the link right here, it was an important missing piece. This is where we absolutely had to enhance the highway system for the benefit of big game and small mammals to maintain their movements from prairies to mountains, while at the same time reducing animal hits.”
Aside from the site visit, the summit also included educational and informational presentations which reinforced the benefits of federal and state initiatives aimed at improving safety for wildlife and motorists and improving habitat connectivity. In the six years since the first Wildlife & Transportation Summit in 2017, the Alliance is proud of the progress those initiatives have made in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. Policies and initiatives include the 2018 U.S. Department of Interior’s Secretarial Order to improve the quality of big-game winter range and migration corridor habitat, a 2019 Executive Order by Colorado Governor Polis to conserve Colorado’s big game winter range and migration corridors, a Memorandum of Understanding between CDOT and CPW aimed at increasing collaboration and coordination between the two agencies and the 2022 CO Senate Bill 151 which created the state’s first wildlife mitigation fund for wildlife crossing projects.
“It’s critical to demonstrate to our federal and state leaders the incredibly beneficial impact these initiatives have on safe passage for people and wildlife,” said Michelle Cowardin, Wildlife Movement Coordinator for CPW. “Our goal is to capitalize on the momentum of these recent measures and to continue to identify the needs, gaps, and opportunities for long-term and proactive approaches to maintain healthy wildlife populations in Colorado and at the same time build successful partnerships at local, state, and federal levels.”
The two-day Summit wrapped up with a discussion on what’s next for wildlife and transportation in Colorado. In addition to seeking additional funding for the Wildlife Mitigation Fund created by Senate Bill 151, the Alliance was encouraged to continue to support implementation of on-the-ground projects. Participants highlighted the need to build on work with partners, specifically with county decision-makers who can help the Alliance achieve its goals at the local level.
Wildlife stakeholders in attendance at the summit were individuals from several local municipalities and counties, state and federal agencies including CDOT, CPW, Federal Highways Administration, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. As well, representatives from the fields of academia, nonprofits, and engineering also participated in the summit.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s mission is to provide the best multi-modal transportation system that most effectively and safely moves people, goods and information. CDOT maintains more than 23,000 lane miles of highway, more than 3,400 bridges and 35 mountain passes. Our team of employees works tirelessly to reduce the rate and severity of crashes and improve the safety of all modes of transportation. CDOT leverages partnerships with a range of private and public organizations and operates Bustang, an interregional express bus service. Learn more about CDOT’s Wildlife Program.
The Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance was formed as a result of the 2017 Wildlife and Transportation Summit in Silverthorne. In 2018, the Alliance was established as a statewide partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), federal, tribal, academic, nonprofit, biologist, and engineering partners. The Alliance’s mission is to provide safe passage for people and wildlife in Colorado.
KaraVan Hoose, CPW Northeast Region Public Information Officer
Lisa Schwantes, CDOT Southwest Regional Communications Manager
PHOTO CUTLINES: Top left: Traffic zooms by on I-25 near Castle Rock, above wildlife underpasses as attendees of the 2023 Wildlife & Transportation Summit make their way under the structures. Top right: The damp ground near the I-25 wildlife underpass shows evidence of the crossing being used safely by both big game and small mammals. Bottom left: When natural cover is limited in wildlife habitat, brush piles (or windrow features) are built to provide habitat connectivity. Bottom right: Tree limbs and branches assembled into brush piles create safe cover for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians when natural vegetation is limited.