Drivers are urged to use extra caution this fall as deer and elk begin to migrate from the high country.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Joe Lewandowski said deer have already started their march toward lower elevations, which requires them to cross several major roads, including the east and west route of U.S. Highway 160.
Elk, he said, tend to stay in the high country a little later than deer.
But because of persistent drought in the region, it’s a bit of a guessing game for when most of the migration will occur.
“This year has been so hot and dry, it’s hard to say whether we’re going to see an earlier migration or a later migration,” Lewandowski said.
Southwest Colorado, specifically La Plata County, is notoriously known as one of the most dangerous places for wildlife-related car crashes in the state.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has said previously that as many as 75% of crashes between Durango and Bayfield are collisions involving vehicles and animals.
It became such an issue that CDOT built a $7 million wildlife crossing – an underpass for large animals – under Highway 160 about 5 miles east of Elmore’s Corner, between mile markers 97 and 98.
About five years ago, it was announced another 20 or so similar crossings would be built as money allows, though not all projects will come at as high of a price as the wildlife underpass.
Even last year, Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order directing state agencies, including CDOT, to research new ways to protect wildlife, with an emphasis on big-game winter range and migration corridors.
“CDOT made it a priority to improve the safety of these areas where it’s known that wildlife cross the highway,” said CDOT spokeswoman Lisa Schwantes. “We are really looking at areas where we can add additional wildlife mitigation features.”
Schwantes said the wildlife underpass between Durango and Bayfield is working.
“It was being used before it was even finished,” she said. “It’s been a real great enhancement to that corridor for wildlife-vehicle collisions,” she said.
As CDOT realigns U.S. Highway 550 away from Farmington Hill, a number of wildlife mitigation measures will be taken, Schwantes said.
A total of 32 small mammal crossings will be installed as well as another two large mammal crossings under Highway 550, south of County Road 220.
Schwantes said the crossings are expected to greatly reduce animal-vehicle collisions, which have accounted for 56% of all crashes on a 3-mile stretch of highway in the past five years.
CDOT’s other major project for wildlife is at Highway 160 and Colorado Highway 151, near Lake Capote, west of Pagosa Springs. Work includes constructing two large animal crossings, both an underpass and an overpass, as well as installing fencing and extending a passing lane.
Despite CDOT’s efforts, Schwantes said the best thing a driver can do is pay attention while on the road, and travel the speed limit.
“It’s just that time of year when we need to be more diligent and pay attention to the roadway,” she said.
Lewandowski said the most dangerous times on the road are at dawn and dusk.
“I’ve found just by slowing down a little bit, you see a lot more and can avoid those wildlife collisions,” he said.
CPW does not keep data about wildlife collisions. A call to Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll was not returned.