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Wildlife crossings and other strategies to protect big game must be a greater part of Colorado’s transportation system as the state grows in population, Gov. Jared Polis argued at a Wednesday news conference.
“Our population continues to grow, along with infrastructure that supports it,” Polis said during the conference, held outdoors at Colorado School of Mines in Golden. “What those factors mean is there’s more pressure on natural habitats.”
Polis, a Democrat, was joined by representatives from the Colorado Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources to announce a new state report that lays out the administration’s policy objectives for wildlife. Produced in response to a 2019 executive order from Polis, the report describes opportunities for Colorado to improve habitat and migration corridors for big-game species such as elk, moose and mule deer.
Roads, industrial activities and new construction all threaten Colorado’s wildlife, according to the report — on top of the strains caused by climate change, including wildfires and drought. Some species have seen significant declines. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates that the state’s deer population declined from 600,000 to 390,000 between 2007 and 2013.
There are 4,000 animal-vehicle collisions a year in Colorado, Paul Jesaitis, Region 1 transportation director at CDOT, said during the news conference. As one example of a project that helps reduce those collisions, Jesaitis pointed to the landscape behind him.
CDOT learned of an elk herd that would often cross the highway at night to get down to the Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden and enjoy a “buffet” of vegetation — causing about 20 crashes a year, Jesaitis said. So, CDOT recently implemented a motion detector system that triggers flashing lights and slower speed limits when the elk herd starts coming down the hill to enjoy a meal at the golf club.
Besides recommending new corridors for wildlife to cross over or under transportation infrastructure, and technology that helps reduce collisions, the report explores policies such as additional regulation of construction and energy development; managing conservation funds in new ways; considering wildlife when planning hiking and cycling trails; and incentivizing businesses and property owners to help with conservation efforts.