Wildlife zones could have higher fines, lower speeds

Traffic fines would be doubled and nighttime speed limits lowered in designated wildlife crossing zones under a draft version of a bill state Rep. Kathleen Curry plans to introduce in next year’s legislative session.

“We’re soliciting comments on the draft at this point, but the concept is similar to what we do with construction zones,” Curry, D-Gunnison, said in reference to the idea of increasing fines.

She said the measure would apply to “really targeted sections” of highways where the possibility of wildlife being hit by vehicles is high.

A bill proposing doubling of fines at wildlife crossings passed in the state House of Representatives in 2005 but died in the Senate. Curry said she expects her measure also will draw some controversy, but she thinks there’s now more information on the effectiveness of such approaches in reducing incidents of roadkill.

Curry credited wildlife advocate Frosty Merriott of Carbondale as being “the driving force” on the legislation. Merriott has pushed for a decade to reduce animal fatalities along Colorado Highway 82 in the Carbondale area and in other parts of the state. He said he’s elated about Curry’s bill.

“It’s the culmination of years of hard work — kind of a voice crying in the wilderness, I felt like and some of us felt like. We’re excited and want to do what we can to help her,” he said.

Merriott and Curry said the measure is important for saving the lives of people and animals.

A 2006 study found animal collisions to be the third-highest cause of accidents in the state in the prior three years. From 1993-2004, such collisions resulted in 29 people dying and at least 2,241 being injured.

State Farm insurance company says 24-month, deer- vehicle-collision counts increased 19 percent in Colorado over five years. Merriott hopes the worsening problem will make a wildlife bill easier to pass now than it was in 2005.

Curry has been consulting with the Colorado State Patrol and state transportation officials. The Colorado Department of Transportation has been experimenting with reduced nighttime speed limits where wildlife cross, but says it doesn’t yet have conclusive data showing its effectiveness.


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