Proposed wildlife overpass near Vail a first in Colorado

Posted: Friday, April 22, 2005

VAIL, Colo. (AP) — Plans are underway to build a wildlife overpass to help elk, lynx and other mountain-dwelling animals avoid the heavily traveled Interstate 70 east of Vail.

Supporters are asking the federal government for a $4.5 million preliminary grant for the project, which would including building fences roughly between Vail and Copper Mountain.

The fences would funnel wildlife to a 150-foot-wide bridge planted with trees, grass, and brush to mimic the sourrounding mountain landscape.

Environmentalist say the area near Vail Pass divides the northern and southern ecosystems in the Rockies and is an important corridor for the reintroduced lynx.

The proposed overpass would complement wildlife underpasses already in the area. Most species prefer large, open crossing structures rather than the more easily built underpasses along rivers and natural drainage, according to a study.

''This area along I-70 is one of the most critical wildlife connections in the state of Colorado,'' said Keith Giezentanner, forest ecologist for the surrounding White River National Forest.

Two lynx have been killed along the interstate since 1999, when the Colorado Division of Wildlife began reintroducing the long-haired cat to the state. Lynx are classified as threatened under federal law and endangered under state law.

More than 80 animal collisions were reported along the interstate in the area between 1993 and 2003, but wildlife experts say animal fatalities are far higher because most accidents go unreported.

Similar projects have been completed in Europe and in Canada's Banff National Park. A five-year study of the trans-Canada highway in Alberta found animal-vehicle collisions could be reduced by about 80 percent when wildlife have multiple options for crossing busy highways, including overpasses and un-derpasses.

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