Date: April 5, 2005
Sloan Shoemaker, Wilderness Workshop, (970) 963-3977, (970) 618-6022 mobile;
Monique DiGiorgio, Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, (720) 946-9653; (303)
Local and regional wildlife advocates are working with Members of Colorado’s
Congressional delegation to seek a preliminary amount of $4.5 million in
federal funding to build a vegetated wildlife overpass on I-70 west of Vail
Pass. The bridge, complete with vegetation and fencing, would improve
traveler safety by helping to ensure safe passage for wildlife across I-70
and would be the first of its kind in Colorado. If the request is
successful, the funds will be allocated to the Colorado Department of
Transportation and construction could begin as early as 2007.
With intensive monitoring before and after construction, the wildlife
overpass will serve as a pilot project for reducing wildlife-vehicle
collisions and connecting important habitat for wildlife. Between 1993 and
2003, a reported 83 wildlife-vehicle collisions occurred between milepost
190 at Vail Pass and milepost 176 at the Town of Vail. In these, 11 people
sustained personal injuries and 72 reported property damage. The wildlife
killed in those crashes included coyote, deer, elk, and two of Colorado’s
recently reintroduced Canada lynx. According to the Colorado State Patrol,
wildlife-vehicle collisions are generally underreported - the true number of
wildlife-vehicle collisions is likely much higher.
The overpass would be located in the vicinity of milepost 188, just west of
Vail Pass, at a point that has been identified by several independent
studies as a critical wildlife crossing area that poses problems for both
wildlife and the motoring public.
Local support is strong for the project. The Town of Vail penned a strong
letter of support on March 16th stating that it was "extremely enthusiastic
about this project and the benefit it will have for wildlife and the
residents and visitors of Vail." Eagle County is also poised to pass a
similar resolution in support of the overpass.
"The time is right for a vegetated overpass at West Vail Pass," said Sloan
Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based
conservation group that is spearheading the project.
"This pilot structure will have tremendous visibility on this heavily
traveled route, giving the public an opportunity to experience its safety,
visual appeal, and utility, thereby building support for the larger
initiative to construct wildlife structures at all the critical crossings
across the state," he added.
Recent studies on the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures have
demonstrated positive results. A five-year study conducted along the Trans
Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, demonstrated that animal-vehicle
collisions can be reduced by more than 80% by presenting wildlife with as
many options as possible, rendering what was formerly a formidable barrier
highly permeable. This means providing multiple crossing structures of many
different types - from small culverts, to wide span-bridge underpasses, to
A vegetated wildlife overpass, or green bridge, was chosen for the West Vail
Pass location because it would be cost prohibitive to construct a wide
span-bridge underpass of the scale necessary to create the openness wildlife
prefer and would cause unacceptable traffic delays. The proposed overpass,
on the other hand, would complement the already existing wildlife
underpasses in this area, ensuring that wildlife have multiple options for
crossing I-70. Equally essential to success is installing wildlife fencing
that only allows wildlife to cross at structure locations.
"Wildlife crossing structures, including overpasses and underpasses, in
conjunction with wildlife fencing, are a proven and effective way to reduce
animal-vehicle collisions and maintain landscape connectivity," said Dr.
Tony Clevenger, from the Western Transportation Institute, Montana State
University and lead scientist conducting research in Banff National Park.
Dr. Clevenger’s study demonstrated that most species, including deer, elk,
wolf, and grizzly bear prefer to use large wildlife crossing structures that
maximize a sense of openness. On the other hand, some species like mountain
lions and black bear prefer to use underpasses that are most easily
constructed where natural drainages already exist. Lastly, culverts or
smaller tunnels can be built for frogs, toads, and other small vertebrates.
I-70 is known to be a major barrier to wildlife. With its east-west
orientation, heavy traffic and multiple lanes, it’s often called the Berlin
Wall for Colorado’s wildlife. West Vail Pass was chosen as the site for this
pilot project because of its statewide significance as a wildlife corridor
as well as protected Forest Service lands on either side of I-70. The Eagle’
s Nest Wilderness abuts the north side of the interstate and portions of the
south side are designated a Forested Landscape Linkage in the recently
revised Forest Plan.
Although there are other stretches of highway that see more wildlife-vehicle
collisions, the west side of Vail Pass is of particular ecological concern
because it’s an important corridor for reintroduced lynx. Two lynx have been
killed by vehicles there since 1999.
"This area along I-70 is one of the most critical wildlife connections in
the state of Colorado, and the two lynx mortalities along this stretch of
road confirm its use by a threatened species," said Keith Giezentanner, the
Forest Ecologist for the White River National Forest.
The Colorado Department of Transportation also identified the West Vail Pass
"linkage interference zone" as a high priority in their recently released
I-70 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) as part of their
ALIVE, an interagency group, formed to assess and improve permeability for
wildlife along the I-70 Corridor from Denver to Glenwood Springs, is working
with advocates to further develop the concept and plan for the structure and
is supportive of constructing a vegetated wildlife overpass in this
"This is a unique opportunity for the state of Colorado to demonstrate its
commitment to drivers as well as the wildlife that so many Colorado
residents and visitors come to see. This project is a win for wildlife and a
win for citizens of the state of Colorado," added Monique DiGiorgio,
executive director of the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, a Denver-based
conservation group conducting statewide analyses on wildlife linkages in
partnership with the Federal Highway Administration, CDOT, Colorado State
University and The Nature Conservancy. West Vail Pass was identified as a
high priority wildlife linkage as part of that study.
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