Bill to Fund Wildlife Crossings Passes out of Colorado State Senate
Wildlife crossing solutions bill that will save Colorado lives and money now heads to House
DENVER, CO (May 3, 2022) – The Colorado Senate today passed bipartisan legislation that would provide funding for wildlife road crossing projects across the state. The bill, Senate Bill 22-15,1 Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists, was introduced by Senators Jessie Danielson (D-SD20) and Tammy Story (D-SD16) and Reps. Julie McCluskie (D-HD61) and Perry Will (R-HD57) and has support from diverse stakeholders, including sportsmen and sportswomen, land and wildlife conservation organizations, and other community leaders. The bill would create a “Colorado Wildlife Safe Passages Fund” (Fund), which as amended by the Senate Appropriations Committee would allocate $5 million for wildlife crossing projects on stretches of roads and highways with high rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) or where the ability of wildlife to move across the landscape has been hampered by high traffic volumes.
“The Senate voted today to make our roads safer for people and animals by passing the Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists Act,” said Colorado State Senator Jessie Danielson, the prime sponsor of the legislation. “Wildlife-vehicle collisions cost our taxpayers $100 million a year and it actually costs society less to build wildlife crossing solutions than it costs to do nothing. I hope the House passes this bill so Colorado can continue to be a leader in the West by being good stewards of our iconic wildlife while also safeguarding motorists traveling on our scenic roadways.”
WVCs are a significant issue in Colorado, costing not only money, but also the lives of people and wildlife. Colorado law enforcement reports an annual average of nearly 4,000 WVCs, though it is estimated that a more accurate figure is 14,100 when unrecorded collisions are considered. WVCs have tragic consequences, including hundreds of human injuries and some fatalities, the death of thousands of animals, and an annual cost of approximately $80 million in property damage, emergency response, medical treatments, and other costs. This figure does not include the value of lost wildlife—likely $24 million—or the impact on the health of wildlife populations.
The Fund would help advance projects identified in the Colorado’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) 10-year pipeline of projects with wildlife infrastructure components, as well as projects identified by the Colorado Wildlife and Transportation Alliance, state agencies, and county or Tribal governments. It would also provide a much-needed source of matching funds to leverage federal grants under the new Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program—$350 million over five years—that was established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The fund would also assist with private land conservation efforts adjacent to crossing projects to ensure their effectiveness is not diminished by future land use or development.
Now that the fund will be established and seeded with an initial investment, many interested groups and partners look forward to working with the Colorado General Assembly to dedicate the additional funding necessary to advance CDOT’s priority wildlife highway projects.
“Wildlife contribute several billion dollars each year to Colorado’s economy. Wildlife crossings are a proven and effective solution to reducing collisions and giving animals the freedom to move about in order to survive. This benefits our communities, business, and all of us who appreciate living in a place with vibrant wildlife populations. We know what to do and we have the opportunity with this bill to do it,” added Julia Kintsch, chair of the board for Summit County Safe Passages.
Colorado is a leader in the West when it comes to wildlife crossing solutions, with 64 bridges, culverts (or tunnels) and fencing to exclude animals from roadways and guide them to safe crossings. Time has shown that these crossings are highly effective. For example, in 2015-16, Colorado’s first two wildlife overpasses, five wildlife underpasses, 10.3 miles of wildlife exclusion fencing on both sides of the highway, and other mitigation features were constructed on State Highway 9 between Kremmling and Green Mountain Reservoir. These investments resulted in a 92% reduction in crashes with wildlife reported to law enforcement and a 90% reduction in carcasses. Yet more needs to be done. Even with the state’s significant investment in wildlife crossing infrastructure to date, Colorado Parks & Wildlife estimates that more Western Slope mule deer does are killed each year in WVCs than from the annual hunter harvest. Wildlife losses from vehicle collisions harm wildlife populations, the state’s $62.5 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the outfitter and hunting communities.
“As a hunter, outfitter and parent who drives his kids to school on a rural highway, I applaud the Colorado State Senate for passing the Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists Act,” said Adam Gall, Colorado Chapter board member, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The numbers of deer and elk that get killed or injured by vehicles, and in turn cause injury to people along the roads we commute on daily is significant. This bill would be a huge win for Colorado’s big game and rural communities alike, and I look forward to the House passing this important bill.”
Because so many Coloradans are impacted by WVCs, there is broad bipartisan support for wildlife crossings from voters across the state. In fact, a recent poll found that 73% of voters in Colorado and New Mexico supported wildlife crossing solutions, including building overpasses on highways.
Advocates of this bill give substantial credit to Governor Jared Polis for his 2019 Conserving Colorado’s Big Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors executive order that has helped focus state agencies and resources on protecting habitat for wildlife movement. The concept for creating the Fund was referenced in a 2021 joint policy report issued by the Department of Natural Resources and CDOT that was set in motion by the Governor’s executive order.
Diverse interests, including hunting and fishing organizations, Tribal representatives, wildlife advocates, and local jurisdictions are now hopeful that the House will follow suit and pass the Safe Crossings for Colorado Wildlife and Motorists Act into law this session, moving forward a true win-win initiative to make Colorado’s roads safer for people and wildlife.
Your Help is Needed
Whether you’re experiencing Summit County as a local or a visitor, it’s important to understand the places we go and how we impact them. With that knowledge we can take action to do our part as individuals by advocating for the organizations and initiatives that protect the natural landscapes and wildlife that draw us here in the first place.