Wildlife migration warning highlights Summit County hot spots for accidents

A bull moose crosses a recpatch near 7th Avenue in Frisco on Monday. To see your photos featured in print or online, email submissions to
Glenn Schutz/Courtesy photo

Daylight saving time ended on Sunday, Nov. 6, and wildlife advocates are warning that large animals will now be migrating across Summit County roadways when many community members are driving on their evening commutes home. 

Drivers should be aware that animals travel at dawn and dusk — now that the sun is setting an hour earlier, large mammals like deer, pronghorn, elk and moose are likely to move during some of the heaviest traffic of the day, explained Michael Connely, executive director of Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and a board member for Summit County Safe Passages

As days get shorter, more vehicles are expected to be on the roads during times of migration. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado’s big game typically migrates from higher elevations in the summer to lower elevations as winter approaches.

“They don’t make any difference between the wilderness and the highway,” Connely said. “They’ve got to cross over the roads in order to get to where they want to go. A lot of times it’s taking place early in the morning or at dusk when drivers are not able to either see them as easily or react as quickly in avoiding these animals that are crossing the roads. So we try to make people aware of the fact that they need to be extra vigilant — particularly in the fall because it’s actually mating season, and there’s even more migration taking place, particularly with the elk population.” 

It is estimated that accidents between animals and cars cost about $80 million each year in property damage, injuries and fatalities, according to data from Summit County Safe Passages. Another $24 million is lost in recreational opportunities. The group reports that over 3,000 of these kinds of crashes are documented in Colorado annually.

Connely said that some areas in Summit County have more large animal activity than others. One high-activity area is Colorado Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir, which runs through a big elk migratory passageway. Another active corridor is from Breckenridge toward Hoosier Pass, where moose regularly cross. He says there are a few things drivers can do to reduce the number and severity of animal collisions.

“Go slow, and that should be a warning, particularly this time of the year, for the next six or seven months,” he said. “You get a much better reaction time if you’re going slower, so reduce your speed. Be vigilant particularly on the sides of the road where animals are likely to start off before they’re crossing. And then pay attention to the signs that are out there and near migration paths.”

On the west side of Vail Pass, wildlife crossings are in the works as a part of the expansion of Interstate 70 from four to six lanes.
Summit Safe Passages/Courtesy illustration

In recent years, the state has put in work to decrease the probability of animal-vehicle accidents by building wildlife crossings. Wildlife crossings are structures that allow wildlife to cross a roadway either above or below vehicles. There are seven crossings on Highway 9 from Green Mountain Reservoir north to Kremmling including two overpasses and five underpasses along with 10.3 miles of fencing, 29 wildlife guards and 61 escape ramps. According to a 2021 report, a total of 112,678 mule deer have successfully crossed the highway in five years because of the wildlife crossing structures. 

Summit County Safe Passages has launched a campaign to build crossing structures on Interstate 70 east of Vail Pass. On average, that stretch of I-70 sees 23,000 vehicles a day. Currently, that stretch of I-70 has five bridges on the eastbound lanes but only one on the westbound lanes. A feasibility study has been completed, and Conelly said that once completed, it could cost upwards of $40 million to $50 million. 

“As traffic increases across the state, more roadways will become barriers to wildlife movement, therefore it is important that we work together to develop solutions to maintain healthy wildlife populations in Colorado,” said Michelle Cowardin, wildlife movement coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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