What are the state and county doing?
A 2017 population status update for mule deer herds in Colorado indicates that population estimates are still far below the statewide population objective ranges, and many western slope herds still have not recovered from the severe winter of 2007-2008. In December 2015 the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission adopted the “Colorado West Slope Mule Deer Strategy.” The focus of the strategy is to understand and work towards reversing the trend, and to restore mule deer populations to the state’s objective of 410,000 – 450,000 for all of Western Colorado. Currently, the mule deer population size falls more than 100,000 animals short of this goal.
While of great value to state and local economies, such a major increase in deer numbers presents an ever-greater concern to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which is already confronted with high rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions at current herd sizes. In addition, CDOT and CPW are both increasingly dealing with problems created by roadway fencing, which, like any fence, can present a barrier to wildlife movements, including natural migration patterns, and impact wildlife management goals.
Wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and other wildlife conflicts hinder CDOT’s mission to provide safe, reliable and efficient transportation.
As CPW works towards its goal of increasing the deer population in western Colorado, implementation and monitoring will be of growing importance to reduce WVCs and provide safer roads for wildlife and people alike.
What is CDOT’s Statewide Planning Process?
The Statewide Plan (SWP) identifies the future needs for Colorado’s transportation system, establishes transportation vision and goals for the state, and outlines the strategic direction necessary to achieve these goals. The SWP connects current and future funding realities with business practices and partnering efforts to deliver an effective and efficient transportation system that works for Colorado today and in the future. The SWP represents the people of Colorado’s vision for the transportation system.
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Statewide Transportation Planning is required by federal and state regulations, and provides a direction and framework for decision-making at CDOT. The statewide planning process, with its extensive public involvement component, utilizes a broad spectrum of disciplines and provides guidance to develop innovative and informed approaches to decision-making.
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How do plans become projects?
Currently, CDOT addresses WVCs largely on a project-by-project basis, integrating mitigation as transportation projects arise in segments observed to have high WVC rates. Mitigation decisions are largely based on WVC accident data reported to law enforcement. To the extent possible, CDOT planning and design may also incorporate the carcass counts recorded by CDOT maintenance personnel. Carcass counts are known to be inconsistently reported from one maintenance patrol to the next, however, when used in conjunction with the law enforcement data further insights into the magnitude of the problem can be gleaned.
When a transportation project falls in one of these recognized high WVC segments, transportation planners overlay WVC hotspots in the project area with partially mapped wildlife habitat and movement data available from CPW to identify potential mitigation sites.
How can citizens help make plans a reality?
Converting plans into projects takes work and funding. You can help by spreading the word in your local community about wildlife mitigation and talking to local and state elected officials about transportation planning. The Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) meetings occur on a regular basis and are open to the public. Learn more about CDOT’s public involvement process here.
Photo source: USFWS
If you would like to specifically engage with the Alliance to make planning for wildlife mitigation a reality in your community, fill out this contact form and let us know how you’d like to be involved.
What are other states doing?
The Wyoming Wildlife and Roadways Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation to improve public safety on highways, reduce loss of lives and property, and reduce impacts to wildlife. The agencies jointly hosted the “Wyoming’s Wildlife and Roadways Summit” to focus attention on migrating and wintering wildlife, wildlife-vehicle collisions, and motorist safety.
This event was a unique opportunity for state agencies, non-governmental organizations, members of the public, and other stakeholders to come together to actively address these critical issues and identify opportunities to mitigate these conflicts.
In the course of evaluating the data from the summit, it was clear that certain stretches of highways are problematic for multiple species. The cooperating agencies produced a Road Map document to summarize the concerns and issues raised by stakeholders at the summit. One of the key outcomes is the creation of the Wyoming Wildlife and Roadways Initiative Implementation Team, whose focus will be prioritizing projects and working on collaborative funding to implement strategies and recommendations from the Road Map.
Montana’s People’s Way Partnership is building public awareness and support for wildlife crossing structures and associated mitigation measures along U.S. Highway 93 North on the Flathead Indian Reservation and beyond. The partnership created the “Animals’ Trail,” a 197-foot-wide vegetated bridge that provides safe passage for wildlife to cross over the busy highway. The Animals’ Trail is just one of dozens of fish and wildlife crossing structures that line the 56-mile stretch of highway.
The Montana Department of Transportation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and Federal Highway Administration constructed these passages to improve safety by reducing WVCs and protect wildlife migration corridors.
The structures are located in areas known for heavy wildlife crossings and mortality, and/or where the surrounding landscape was best suited for the structures. They are typically located near stream crossings and areas with protected habitat on both sides of the road.
Photo source unless otherwise noted: Rocky Mountain Wild, ECO-resolutions, CDOT