Bambi on board

Bambi on board

Alright, here we go: Why did the elk cross the bridge? Well, because it was extensively studied and verified that it and other big game use the area as a migration corridor, and with vehicle collisions on the rise, wildlife and transportation officials built a highly effective wildlife crossing. Ba dum tss! 

This week, the “Highway 160 Wildlife Crossing Project” between Durango and Pagosa Springs, near Chimney Rock, officially opened for business. It’s being hailed as a win-win: promoting safer travel, not just for drivers, but wildlife as well. The project includes a wildlife underpass just west of the Highway 151 intersection; a wildlife overpass over Highway 160; a 2-mile exclusion fence;  and earthen escape ramps and deer guards along the length of the fencing.

 Wildlife collisions are a huge issue, not just in the U.S., but around the world, and manmade crossings are seen as a highly effective solution. The concept was first developed in France in the 1950s and has since caught on on nearly every continent, for everything from squirrel gliders, elephants, salamanders, turtles and crabs (though as someone deathly allergic to crab, not sure how I feel about that one). Even New Jersey – the state where you are most likely to have a bagel thrown at you in the streets (Source: Durango Telegraph) – has one! 

For years, Southwest Colorado has ranked as one of the worst regions for wildlife collisions in the state, a product of prime habitat coupled with an increasing number of drivers speeding because they really need to save 10 seconds on their drive. In fact, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, more than 60% of crashes along this particular 2-mile stretch of HWY 160 were wildlife-vehicle collisions. This project, CDOT says, will reduce those incidents by at least 85%. 

How do we know wildlife will use the shiny new crossings? Well, to start, it’s pretty clear where most roadkill is located along the highway. In addition, big game were collared with GPS devices by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and tracked to monitor their movements. CDOT and Colorado Parks and Wildlife also mapped the areas where wildlife are known to spend summer in the high country to the north, and at which points they must cross HWY 160 to get to winter range to the south.

The newly constructed overpass is the third of its kind in Colorado. And plans call for two more underpasses and 32 small mammal underpasses along the $100 million realignment of HWY 550 south of Durango.

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