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4/10/2014 Officials warn of springtime wildlife conflicts

Occasionally in the Valley, we will hear of car collisions with wildlife. Wildlife accidents increase since, with spring on the horizon, herds of elk, deer and bighorn sheep are migrating to fields of fresh grass. Burrowing animals are leaving their holes and soon the ursine mammals will wake from their winter snooze and begin forging to fill their hungry bellies.
Justin Krall, local officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, states that animal movement is seasonal, with spring a specific time that herd numbers increase and deer and elk move from winter to summer ranges. Bears also are on the move, looking for food.
With so much animal movement, drivers naturally collide with them. In the U.S.,40 million animals end up as road-kill. In parts of Colorado, 70 percent of auto accidents involve wildlife. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that crashes with deer cause 200 human fatalities annually, along with tens of thousands of injuries and $3.6 billion in vehicle damage.
Krall indicates that wildlife trek all over Custer County. “Bighorn sheep usually clump along 96 between mile marker 15 and North Creek road, which is full of blind curves,” he says.  “So drivers should keep an eye out for them in that area.”
Though one is more likely to see a dead deer in the ditch, carnivores can also get in front of traffic.  Krall notes that drivers should be wary of bears crossing the highway along Raton Pass and LaVeta Pass where bear road-kills often occur. “Black bears typically travel at night, when it’s hard to see them,” Krall says.”
He points out that any road close to a river constitutes a car-wildlife collision danger.  “Riparian areas are corridors that animals use to travel, and so drivers might be more careful in those zones.”   
To protect its creatures, the state of Colorado has employed various methods of reducing road-kill.  For instance, well-traveled sections of I-70 have had fences installed, including the Gypsum areas and the roadway from Vail Pass to the Utah state line, along with the nearby Carbondale area. Fences curtail car collisions with creatures, though wildlife officials worry the fences disrupt migration routes.
Another road-kill deterrent involves a high-tech cable buried parallel to the highway. The cable emits an electromagnetic field calibrated to detect large animals like elk and deer. If the system senses an animal close to the road, an alarm will warn drivers of its presence.
Custer County doesn’t warrant the installation of fences or high-tech cable since it doesn’t contain major thoroughfares. However, as Krall notes, local drivers should remain alert to animals in the roadway. He describes a stretch of 69 from Verdemont to Texas Creek as heavily populated with elk and deer. A large elk herd has also been grazing near Bear Basin and in Silver Cliff Ranch along highway 96.  
Some tips to avoid collisions with animals include:
• Pay attention to road signs that mark herd migration areas.  Travelers should also note areas not marked, like highway 67 from Wetmore to Florence, over which elk herds regularly travel.  The San Luis Valley also features heavy elk movement.
• Pay extra attention at dawn and dusk, times when animals move and are harder to spot.
• Look for animals; if drivers see one deer or sheep or elk, they should assume other animals are nearby.
• Drive slowly to increase one’s ability to spot animals and brake to avoid hitting them.
  Also, when travelling Colorado, keep in mind the most animal-active areas.  The list below includes several areas in or near Custer County:  
• Colo. Highway 115, Colorado Springs to Penrose
• I-25, Colorado Springs to Monument
• I-25, Trinidad to New Mexico state line
• U.S. Highway 160, Pagosa Springs to Cortez
• U.S. Highway 50, Monarch Pass to Montrose
• Colo. Highway 13, Rifle to Meeker
• Colo. Highway 82, Glenwood Springs to Aspen
• Colo. Highway 9, Silverthorne to Kremmling
• Colo. Highway 93, Golden to Boulder
• I-70, Floyd Hill, Mt. Vernon Canyon and Eagle
• I-76, Sterling to the Nebraska state line
• U. S. Highway 287, Fort Collins to the Wyoming state line
• U.S. Highway 285, Antero Junction to Fairplay
• U.S. Highway 285, Morrison
• U.S. Highway 34, Loveland into the Big Thompson River canyon
• U.S. Highway 36, Boulder to Lyons
• U.S. Highway 550, north of Durango to Delta
Drivers can also assist in the road-kill problem.  For instance, the nonprofit Animal Help Now offers a free phone app at www.animalhelpnow.org that allows people who find an injured animal to seek help for it.
Also, a website, http://www.wildlifecrossing.net/colorado/doc/about_co-won, invites Colorado drivers to log on and report the dead animals.  The organization, Colorado Road Wildlife Watch, collects and distributes data about where wildlife crosses roads, the animals involved and what kinds of roads collisions are frequent.  It uses this information to reduce road-kill.  
Krall points out one of the most effective methods: drivers flashing their headlights at oncoming traffic to warn of animals on or near the roads.  “That does help to avert wildlife accidents,” he says.
-Cyn Williams