In the face of incredible development across Colorado, state officials on Wednesday launched a plan that aims to preserve as much land — and provide as many migration routes as possible — for the state’s dwindling large game population.
The report, called the Big Game Migration and Wildlife Connectivity Policy Report, gives eight policy recommendations to better preserve animal habitats and reduce the 3,300 vehicle-wild collisions that occur on average each year, causing property and personal damage. in losses of more than $66 million. . It also identifies potential funding sources at the federal and state levels.
Consideration to reduce conflicts for land use decisions taking into account the needs of mule deer, elk and moose to achieve greater commitments from oil and gas operators to have less impact on wildlife habitat Run the gamut from building underpasses and bridges.
Gov. Jared Polis joined several other state officials in Golden on Wednesday to tout the 52-page report, which was put together by the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The governor signed an executive order two years ago that supports the protection of wildlife habitat and migratory routes as well as public safety.
“Over the past 18 months, Coloradans have experienced the Great Outdoors in record numbers and we don’t see that trend changing any time soon,” said Polis, as traffic rolled behind him on US 6, which Until recently many wildlife was equipped with underpasses. This has dramatically reduced the number of vehicle-animal collisions on the busy stretch of highway.
Any improvement would be hampered by the need for funding and Colorado’s continued population growth; The 2020 census figures show that the state has added 774,518 people for a total of 5.8 million residents over the past decade.
Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said “development presents real problems for the landscape” for large game animals such as deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, elk and moose.
Some of Colorado’s “iconic” big game species, particularly deer, “have suffered significant declines” in recent decades, the report said. The state’s total deer population declined from 600,000 in 2007 to less than 400,000 in 2013. The White River Herd, the country’s largest mule deer, experienced a decline of 100,000 to 32,000 animals between 2005 and 2017.
“While disease, competition and hunting contribute to these declining numbers, habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from residential, recreational and industrial development – compounded by the long-term effects of climate change – present risks to these species,” the report said.
The report states that local zoning and land use planning decisions are often “crafted to reduce barriers to private property development in rural areas”. “The resulting ‘parcelization’ may contribute to large game habitat fragmentation, particularly in the lower winter range which is particularly desirable for residential development.”
The report dedicates a section to the infrastructure improvements that need to be done to reduce vehicle and animal collisions. CDOT, in its 10-year plan, has identified between $1.5 billion and $2.7 billion in capital projects to do so.
One area that has shown promise is on State Highway 9 south of the Kremling, where an average of 56 wildlife collisions a year was reduced by 90% after five wildlife underpasses and two overpasses were built, which were connected by a 10.5-mile fence. .
CDOT’s Area 1 Transportation Director Paul Jesitis said more is to come. They pointed to four underpasses on Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock 18 miles of The Gap and two planned large crossings on Interstate 70 west of Denver—one in Genesee and one at Empire.
“We’re trying to put the money where it will work best,” Jasitis said.