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A new initiative aims to protect drivers and wildlife on highways in the Roaring Fork Valley

A herd of bull elk on the move in the Roaring Fork Valley. Elk herds have seen a 30-50% decline in numbers in the valley over the last 10-20 years due to a variety of factors, including human development and climate change.
Courtesy Of The Watershed Biodiversity Initiative
A herd of bull elk on the move in the Roaring Fork Valley. Elk herds have seen a 30-50% decline in numbers in the valley over the last 10-20 years due to a variety of factors, including human development and climate change.

A new organization launched in the valley last week to protect drivers and animals from collisions on Highways 82 and 133 and to increase habitat connectivity by building wildlife crossings.

Snowmass Village resident Cecily DeAngelo is spearheading the effort as the director of Roaring Fork Safe Passages.

“I was born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, and it has long been an interest of mine to protect wildlife in our watershed,” she said.

The Watershed Biodiversity Initiative (WBI), led by Executive Director Tom Cardamone, helped start the organization and is the acting fiscal sponsor for Roaring Fork Safe Passages.

According to DeAngelo, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Transportation partnered on a 2019 wildlife study that found Highways 82 and 133 have some of the highest roadkill rates in the state.

They also act as barriers that cut off access to critical habitat for elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and other species that are declining in the region due in large part to human development and climate change.

“Just one crossing can provide access to thousands of acres of currently inaccessible or underutilized habitat and have been proven to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions by 90%,” Roaring Fork Safe Passages stated in a press release last week announcing its launch.

Tom Cardamone with the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative (WBI), right, and Lauren Buchholz with Wilderness Workshop investigate a wildlife underpass between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Buchholz was hired by Wilderness Workshop on WBI's behalf to create an inventory of highway infrastructure that is either built for wildlife or could possibly accommodate wildlife of all sizes.
Courtesy Of The Watershed Biodiversity Initiative
Tom Cardamone with the Watershed Biodiversity Initiative (WBI), right, and Lauren Buchholz with Wilderness Workshop investigate a wildlife underpass between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Buchholz was hired by Wilderness Workshop on WBI's behalf to create an inventory of highway infrastructure that is either built for wildlife or could possibly accommodate wildlife of all sizes.

Cardamone said it's helpful to understand the issue with a statewide and national perspective.

“There’s a large animal hit on our nation’s highways every 26 seconds — 1 to 2 million large animals every year are hit and a couple of hundred people die in those accidents,” Cardamone said. “So it’s a huge issue nationally, and it's commensurately big in our state.”

Cardamone and his team at WBI recently finished up a three-year biodiversity study of the Roaring Fork River watershed.

Some of the data and habitat mapping from the study is being used to identify ideal spots for potential overpasses, underpasses, and other types of wildlife infrastructure.

A female mule deer and her fawn look for winter food sources in the Roaring Fork Valley. According to the new organization Roaring Fork Safe Passages, one wildlife crossing on a highway can provide access to thousands of acres of currently inaccessible or underutilized habitat and have been proven to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions by 90%.
Mark Fuller
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Courtesy Of Roaring Fork Safe Passages
A female mule deer and her fawn look for winter food sources in the Roaring Fork Valley. According to the new organization Roaring Fork Safe Passages, one wildlife crossing on a highway can provide access to thousands of acres of currently inaccessible or underutilized habitat and have been proven to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions by 90%.

The new initiative received a $10,000 grant from Aspen Skiing Company’s Environment Foundation to support its launch.

Roaring Fork Safe Passages aims to raise $150,000 by Jun. 1, 2023 for an initial study on wildlife vehicle collision mitigation strategies along Highways 82 and 133.

Aspen Public Radio recently talked with Cardamone and DeAngelo about the new organization and its efforts to build a regional coalition to raise awareness and funding for new wildlife crossings in the valley and beyond.

You can listen to the conversation above.
Copyright 2023 Aspen Public Radio . To see more, visit Aspen Public Radio .

Eleanor Bennett
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