Momentum builds in Aspen area to help wildlife cross Highway 82 | News

The effort to create safe passages for wildlife attempting to cross Highway 82 is picking up momentum. Eventually it’s going to need to pick up funding as well.

Cecily DeAngelo of Snowmass Village is in the process of starting Roaring Fork Valley Safe Passages for Wildlife, an organization that will pull together information on where wildlife crossings are needed along Highway 82 in the valley, what type of structures would be best suited and then advocate to get them built.

DeAngelo stressed Tuesday that she is just getting the effort off the ground so she doesn’t have all the answers. However, she’s already found enthusiastic support for the nascent effort. The Roaring Fork Valley native said she was inspired by an interest in helping wildlife.

“I’m passionate about retaining wildlife diversity for future generations and our children,” she said.

She feels that saving wildlife is an issue that transcends the political polarization that plagues so many other efforts. Conservationists, wildlife lovers, hunters and anyone forced to drive Highway 82 at night can rally around the common cause of safe passages, she said.

“I like working on something where everybody is in agreement,” DeAngelo said. “It’s something that’s been talked about forever. Now is the time.”

An organization called Summit County Safe Passages for Wildlife was instrumental in getting public and private groups together to include overpasses and underpasses dedicated to wildlife on Highway 9 north of Silverthorne. Colorado Department of Transportation officials cite that project as the poster child for wildlife enhancements in highway construction projects.

The work in Summit County inspired Eagle County Safe Passages for Wildlife, which helped plan wildlife enhancements on Interstate 70 over Vail Pass. The organization identified steps that can be taken throughout the county, including in the Emma area of ​​Highway 82.

DeAngelo said she wants to draw on Summit County Safe Passages for Wildlife to help get started. She also anticipates approaching the Eagle County organization to explore the potential for a coordinated, regional effort. Highway 82 also extends in Garfield County.

DeAngelo anticipates Roaring Fork Valley organization meetings within the next few weeks. She said people interested in participating in the effort can contact her at rfvsafepassages@gmail.com.

The new group has plenty of expertise to draw upon. The Roaring Fork Valley conservation groups Wilderness Workshop and Watershed Biodiversity Initiative have created an inventory of all existing underpasses along Highway 82 from the south end of Glenwood Springs to the west end of Aspen.

“The goal: Determine what existing structures provide opportunities for elk and deer to move safely and efficiently across the busy road, accounting for areas with high vehicle/wildlife collision rates and which underpasses are best placed to connect ideal habitat,” says a description of the inventory.

In addition, private sector wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky of Basalt was a consultant on the Vail Pass project.

CDOT has relied on carcass removal and input from Colorado Parks and Wildlife to determine where animals like deer and elk are getting mowed down most frequently on highways across the state. On Highway 82 in Pitkin County, the stretch between mileposts 26.5 and 27 in Snowmass Canyon is the most deadly for wildlife, a CDOT map shows. The longer stretch between mileposts 26.5 and 28.5 is also high for collisions. However, it falls just outside of the top 5% of highest incidents in the state. CDOT is focused on the top 5% deadliest corridors for priority for funding.

Mileposts 32.5 to 37.5 at and around the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road and points downvalley is another problem area for wildlife collisions.

The problem areas aren’t confined to Pitkin County. Emma, ​​Catherine Store and points further downvalley see high collision rates. DeAngelo said safety enhancements are needed in five or six areas throughout the valley.

Pitkin County commissioners and CDOT officials discussed a variety of topics in a meeting two weeks ago, including wildlife collisions. Commissioner Greg Poschman followed up on that discussion Tuesday by asking the other commissioners if they would endorse a suggestion to have the county Open Space and Trails program and public works look further into enhancing wildlife crossings on Highway 82 in Pitkin County. The board gave a formal nod.

Poschman said he received a lot of encouragement and support when he discussed the issue on social media and in a newspaper article.

“It seems like there is a lot of interest and a lot of things are happening,” he said Tuesday in a joint meeting of the county commissioners and open space board of directors. “I just wanted to bring it up to my board and to the open space board that this should be on the table.”

Open Space and Trails Director Gary Tennenbaum said he would put wildlife crossings in the department’s work plan for 2023, which will be reviewed by both boards. He said a regional effort will be needed for Highway 82 across the valley, which includes Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.

“Even Eagle County Safe Passages and Summit County Safe Passages have shown, it takes a long time (to accomplish goals),” he said. “Hopefully this will bring a bigger, valley-wide Safe Passages because it’s not just Snowmass Canyon, there’s Catherine Store and Cattle Creek.”

The discussion of safe passages for wildlife will boil down to money. CDOT officials told the Pitkin County commissioners that it underpasses the cost of about $1 million to construct while it exceeds the cost of $2 million to $3 million. Prices can soar if land acquisition is part of the equation. Pitkin County Open Space and Trails has extensive holdings in Snowmass Canyon and elsewhere along Highway 82.

Poschman said he is already seeing signs of private sector funds becoming available for the cause. He said he was contacted by the Aspen Skiing Co. Employee Environment Foundation with word that they would welcome a grant request for planning wildlife crossings.

Poschman said he believes the time has come to tackle the issue.

“We’ve been talking about this for years if not decades,” he said. “I think as the traffic density and velocity on Highway 82 and Highway 133 increase, it’s going to become more important.”

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