Why it Matters: Providing wildlife safe passage over or under highways is of mutual benefit to public safety and wildlife populations. Highways often prevent wildlife from safely moving between important habitats. As a result, thousands of animals, including many sensitive species, are killed each year in wildlife-vehicle collisions. Wildlife crossings are especially critical for migrating animals like mule deer, elk, and pronghorn. Including funding and policy programs for wildlife crossings and habitat connectivity is vital to the long-term viability of many wildlife species.
- Providing wildlife safe passage over or under highways as they move between seasonally important habitats benefits both public safety and the long-term health and sustainability of wildlife populations.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), along with 15 other member organizations of the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project signed onto a coalition letter in support of the 2023 Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program Application for US 160 Critical Wildlife Connectivity Corridor (Wildlife Connectivity Project).
The San Juan Basin in Southwestern Colorado is home to two of the largest migratory mule deer and elk herds in the state. Unfortunately for both the herds themselves and Colorado’s traveling public, US 160 is the only primary east-west access route to Durango and Southwestern Colorado. It is this rural region’s version of an interstate, and it bisects the migration route for these San Juan Basin herds. As a result, wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) account for over three-quarters of crashes along the US 160 corridor and up to 80% of all crashes in some highway segments.
This corridor is crucial for maintaining the viability of the San Juan Basin herds. Recent declines in mule deer and elk populations in western Colorado highlight the importance of preserving herd health, size, and migratory movements within the project limits. By facilitating necessary migrations, the Wildlife Connectivity Project serves as a step towards restoring habitat connectivity and reversing troubling trends. In 2006, CDOT’s planners and engineers approved designs for 20 large mammal crossing structures for US 160 between Durango and Bayfield, yet in the last 16 years, only 1 of these 20 crossing structures has been constructed. The reason, of course, is a lack of funding.
In the meantime, the number of WVCs and deer and elk carcasses continue to accumulate on US 160. State patrol reports nearly 100 WVCs per year on the 50-mile segment between Durango and Pagosa, and CDOT’s maintenance crews report about twice that number. In the 16 years since the designs for the 20 crossing structures were approved, around 3,000 deer and elk have perished on US 160 between Durango and Pagosa.
The area around US 160 in Southwestern Colorado is expected to see substantial population growth, which will continue to increase collision risks between wildlife and vehicles. If awarded, the Wildlife Connectivity Project will complete CDOT’s strategic plan to fully separate vehicle traffic from wildlife movements through mitigation measures proven elsewhere in Colorado, as well as new pilot technology. The project will restore habitat connectivity and create safer, more sustainable infrastructure for both humans and wildlife.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, along with 15 other member organizations of the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project, signed onto a coalition letter to US Department of Transportation Secretary, Secretary Buttigieg, in support of the 2023 Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program Application for US 160 Critical Wildlife Connectivity Corridor. CSF is proud to partner with others in the sporting conservation community in support of vital projects that will help to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of our precious wildlife and our time-honored traditions.