A safe passage: Competition in Vail hopes to help wildlife cross the road

Vail Pass and Interstate 70, which one biologist sagely dubbed the “Berlin Wall for wildlife” for the roadway’s ability to block wildlife passage, has been selected as the site for an international competition for designing wildlife-friendly road crossings.

The site was chosen from 22 possible locations across North America and is expected to draw competitors from around the world attempting to make affordable wildlife crossing structures safe for animals and motorists.

Wildlife biologists have long known the threats facing wildlife when crossing the I-70 corridor. There probably isn’t a wildlife species in Colorado, including lynx, that isn’t listed on the tally of animals that don’t make it all the way across the traffic lanes.

According to the Center for Native Ecosystems, two of the 14 lynx killed on roads since 1999, when Colorado began reintroducing the native cats, have been killed on Vail Pass.

In 2005, Congress approved funding for preliminary studies of the Vail Pass site to support the eventual design of a wildlife bridge.

The average total costs associated with a single animal-vehicle collision run as much as $6,617 for deer, $17,483 for elk, and $30,760 for moose, said the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University-Bozeman.

“Identifying new options for mitigating wildlife-vehicle collisions is particularly critical in Colorado’s high country, especially as traffic increases on our state highways,” said Weldon Allen, director for Region 3 of the Colorado Department of Transportation. “An innovative design for an I-70 wildlife crossing will give CDOT and its regional planning partners another alternative as we work together to plan and implement safety measures along this corridor.”

The design competition is called ARC, and one of the several challenges is to make wildlife crossing structures cost-effective. That will require some innovation on the part of the designers, said Tony Clevenger, wildlife ecologist for the WTI and initiator of the ARC Steering Team.

“The crossing structures of today are built of concrete and steel,” said Clevenger. “The possibilities for lighter, more durable, mobile and less expensive structures exist — the ARC competition encourages innovative thinking out of the box.”

The benefits from improved wildlife crossings are many, said Monique DiGiorgio, conservation strategist for the Western Environmental Law Center.

“Highway crossings for wildlife can have so many benefits — improved driver safety, fewer animal deaths, healthier wildlife populations, which also means healthier landscapes,” DiGiorgio said. “Colorado needs to take its commitment to safety for drivers and wildlife to the next level, and Vail Pass is the right place to do it.”

Gov. Bill Ritter agrees.

“The state of Colorado is delighted to be hosting the first-ever North American wildlife crossing structure design competition,” Ritter said in a press release. “The competition will cultivate innovative ideas to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.”

More information about the ARC Competition and a list of the 18 sponsors is available at http://www.arc-competition.com.

Fly Fishing Show hooks Denver: Another salve for the terminally cabin-fevered sportsman in your life is the annual Fly Fishing Show, which this year is coming to Denver from Jan. 8-10 at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

Tickets for the fly-fishing only pageant are $15 for adults (with discounts on multiple day passes), $2 for youths under 12 and free for youths under 5.

Some of the headliners scheduled this year include such fly-tiers, lecturers and authors as A.K. Best, Gary Borger, Lori-Ann Murphy and Dave Whitlock.

You can test your skills in the Wright & McGill Casting Championships, book that dream trip with one of the guides and outfitters in attendance and maybe hone your casting ability at the Federation of Fly Fishers’ Learning Center.

Information on the Denver Fly Fishing Show is available at http://www.flyfishingshow.com.


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