Priority Initiative

Vail Pass Wildlife Byway

Why Vail Pass?

Ecological Significance

The Vail Pass Wildlife Byway has long been identified as an ecologically significant site both within and beyond Colorado for a variety of wildlife species including elk, mule deer and one of the few known breeding populations of Canada lynx outside of southwest Colorado. Nestled in the mountains between Copper Mountain and the top of Vail Pass, this corridor is encompassed entirely by the White River National Forest, including the Eagles Nest Wilderness to the north.

Canada lynx running 

Heavily Trafficked Corridor

Interstate 70 and its constant traffic flows effectively bisect wildlife movements north and south of the interstate. An important travel corridor for Colorado’s adventure community, residents, tourists and industries, this stretch of I-70 sees, on average, 22,000 vehicles a day. This much traffic presents a significant barrier to wildlife and many animals no longer attempt to cross. Those that do are often unsuccessful.

The Project

Project Summary

The Summit County Safe Passages Plan envisions three wildlife crossing structures to allow for the safe passage of wildlife over or under the westbound lanes of I-70. From there, wildlife could use existing large bridges under the eastbound lanes. Reconnecting the Vail Pass Wildlife Byway will improve driver safety and restore one of the most important habitat connections for many of the wildlife species that call Summit County home.

Current Status

The National Forest Foundation has contracted with Wood Engineer to evaluate the feasibility of wildlife crossing solutions on the east side of Vail Pass, focusing on the westbound lanes. The study team also includes ECO-resolutions, Chinook Landscape Architecture, Peak Consulting Group, and Yeh and Associates. Now through Summer 2020, the study team will work with CDOT, SCSP and local stakeholders to evaluate wildlife crossing alternatives for this stretch of interstate. Feasibility of construction, structural and geotechnical challenges, and expected cost will all be investigated.

The Vail Pass Wildlife Byway protects one the most intact and important habitats for many wildlife species along the mountain corridors but wildlife movement and habitat is at risk due to the increasing traffic.

Priority Actions

Project Area

I-70 through this area is a divided highway with a wide, natural, open median. Five large span bridges are present under the eastbound highway lanes; however, there is only one bridge under the westbound lanes and no direct connections between these bridges exist to allow for wildlife passage. Three crossing structures are recommended across the westbound lanes to improve connectivity for wildlife- two underpasses and what could be Colorado’s first wildlife overpass on I-70.

Funding Requirements

The immediate need for the implementation of the Vail Pass Wildlife Byway is to secure the funds needed for design and engineering of the recommended wildlife crossing structures. This is arguably the most impactful point at which to fund a wildlife crossing project – once design is completed, the project is in a good position to leverage other funds that would not be available otherwise to see it through to completion.

Location for Vail Pass proposed overpass location site visit by stakeholders

Recommended Crossing Structure Locations

Join Us in the Field

Citizen Science Monitoring

Wildlife Monitoring

with Citizen science

Wildlife monitoring is an essential step in assessing how effective wildlife crossing structures are in restoring wildlife movement corridors. Citizen science volunteers have been helping to monitor wildlife in the area surrounding the proposed overpass using motion-triggered cameras since 2015. Nearly every species of wildlife found in Colorado’s high mountains has been documented using habitat in the Vail Pass Wildlife Byway.

Moose seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Canada lynx seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Black bear seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Mountain lion seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Citizen science volunteers checking wildlife cameras at Vail Pass

Black bear seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Mule deer seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Mule deer fawn seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Elk cow and calf seen on wildlife camera at Vail Pass

Citizen Science monitoring is brought to you by our partners, Rocky Mountain Wild and Denver Zoo

Your Help is Critical

Your contribution today will help implement the Vail Pass Wildlife Byway and show that this project has wide community support.

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