Summit County considers endorsing wildlife safe passages plan for future planning, development decisions | SummitDaily.com

Summit County considers endorsing wildlife safe passages plan for future planning, development decisions

Vehicles pass under the wildlife passage on Highway 9 Tuesday June 18, near Heeney.
Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com
Vehicles pass under a wildlife passage overpass on State Highway 9 on Tuesday, June 18, near Heeney. Summit County is considering endorsing the Summit County Safe Passages Plan created by a stakeholder coalition involving federal, state, local, public and private entities.
Hugh Carey / hcarey@summitdaily.com

This upcoming Tuesday, Oct. 22, Summit County government will consider helping improve the safety of both motorists and wildlife by endorsing the Summit County Safe Passages Plan. The plan is a guiding document which encourages integration of wildlife passages across county roadways into future county planning and development decisions.

Endorsement of the plan does not require the county to take any action, but rather to take wildlife passage corridors into possible consideration when drafting future updates or amendments to the county master plan or the county Land Use and Development code.

The plan was drafted for board consideration by Summit County Safe Passages, a coalition workgroup including Colorado Department of Transportation, the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wild, local governments, ski areas, other federal and state agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations and local citizens.

In the proposed resolution drafted by county staff, it is noted that there are nearly 4,000 vehicle crashes involving wildlife reported in Colorado annually, with 266 incidents resulting in human injury and costing an estimated $66.4 million annually. Those numbers do not include the unquantifiable loss of wildlife and harm to wildlife populations, nor unreported collisions which may number in the thousands.

In Summit County, a precipitous rise in vehicle traffic as necessitated increased road development and expansion. Some of these roads have been built across existing and sometimes ancient migratory paths for wildlife, preventing animals from accessing grazing grounds and habitat, increasing the risk of vehicle collisions with wildlife and the associated risk of injury and fatalities to humans.

The plan identifies wildlife migratory patterns across the county, specifically where those animal travel paths intersect with roadways in the county and where the most human-wildlife conflicts are taking place. The plan also includes meticulous detail about what particular species would be affected by wildlife passages, including deer, elk, moose, bears, bighorn sheep, lynx and the boreal toad.

The plan also recommends wildlife passage structures, including overpasses and underpasses, at designated areas across highway corridors across the county. The plan has identified 17 wildlife linkages disrupted by state-administered highways in the county, and assigned a priority ranking for each linkage along with the proposed improvement that would be required to remediate wildlife-human conflicts.

Among the top priorities for wildlife passages are the Vail Pass section of Interstate 70 west of Frisco, between mile marker 192 and 193 on the westbound section of the highway. That area was identified as an important linkage for both lynx and deer, but particularly critical for the lynx population as a small breeding population exists south of the highway. 

The Vail Pass linkage was ranked sixth in state-wide priority for the lynx in-lieu fee mitigation fund, based on a CDOT analysis. The plan recommends three possible passages in that section, including an overpass and two underpasses. The plan also recommends wildlife-friendly enclosed fencing along the highway and median to prevent collisions.

Another top priority linkage area is on state Highway 9 on the Upper Blue River, between mile markers 80 and 86. The location is a popular corridor for elk, mule-deer and moose, while the highway handles a large amount of traffic going into Breckenridge from Blue River and in the opposite direction toward Fairplay. The report noted the stretch to have a high rate of wildlife collisions, noting that there were at least seven moose-vehicle collisions there between 2010 and 2016. The plan recommends five possible locations in the stretch for overpasses and underpasses.

In the text of the resolution, emphasis is placed on the importance of nature and wildlife to the county.

“Summit County recognizes that people, nature and wildlife are inseparable and highly interdependent,” the resolution reads. “Shared stewardship of these resources through collaborative partnerships will help people and communities live off the land in ways that improve the health of the land. Implementing mitigation recommendations from the Summit County Safe Passages Plan will set the example for communities state and nationwide to work together and provide for the needs of both people and wildlife.”


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