Bill Creates $5 Million Fund for Wildlife Crossing – The Fort Morgan Times

A bill designed to fund $5 million for Wildlife Crossing, purported to create safe crossings for wildlife and safer road conditions for motorists, has been directed to Governor Jared Polis’ office.

Senate Bill 22-151, led by Senator Jesse Danielson, Dee Witt Ridge, and Tammy Storey, Dee-Connifer, and Rep. Julie McCluskey, Dee-Dillon, with Rep. Perry Will, R. New Castle, also a sponsor, gained broad support from the General Assembly In Colorado, with Senate approval by a margin of 28-7 last week and on Tuesday it had 56-9 support in the House.

While Rep. Rod Bilton, R. Cheyenne Wells, and Rep. Richard Holtorf, R. Akron, backed the bill, Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, Republican of Sterling, said he couldn’t when he considers the transportation needs that still exist in eastern Colorado.

“Unfortunately, we still have unsafe bridges and highways with potholes big enough that a driver needs to wear springs to hold onto them, yet we spend millions building new wildlife bridges to be safe to cross the highway,” Sonnenberg said.

About 4,000 motor vehicle collisions with wildlife occur annually on 23,000 miles of Colorado’s highway infrastructure, the bill states. When looking at total vehicle registrations in Colorado, the odds of a motorist hitting wildlife are 0.075 percent, lower when considering out-of-state traffic on Colorado roads and highways. These collisions result in an estimated $80 million annually in property damage, emergency response and medical treatment, the bill says, though it doesn’t show the costs associated with each.

Wildlife Corridors previously had the backing of the police. Colorado currently has 64 wildlife crossings.

“For too long, we’ve segmented Colorado’s wildlife habitat using our methods, with little regard for what that means for the health of our species,” said Rex Willmouth, senior director of the Colorado Environment Program. “By building more wildlife crossings, Colorado can reconnect fractured habitats so that animal populations, such as elk, deer, and black bears, can thrive, rather than end up dying on the way.”

Despite this, some argue that Colorado’s wildlife is overcrowded, leading to an increased incidence of collisions through poor management. About 2 percent of Colorado’s deer population are killed by vehicle collisions each year, the bill reads, which equals the number of deer allowed to hunters annually.

Backers of the bill point to the Colorado Express. 9, where a similar project is said to have reduced wildlife versus vehicular collisions by 92 percent in the five years after construction.

Opponents see it as crucial to the government, believing, like Sonnenberg, that it is more appropriate to prioritize transfer funds in transportation projects.

“Our highway money would be better spent repairing our roads or increasing capacity, but instead the legislature is choosing to add toll lanes so we pay twice for highway and wildlife bridges to protect animals,” Sonnenberg said.

The legislation created a “Safe Passage Fund” through a public transfer of funds to take place on September 1, unless a referendum petition is filed. The fund will be managed by the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Alongside the new federal funding passed through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we are pleased that the Colorado legislature has taken this important step to fund the wildlife crossings,” Wilmouth said.

Kund Sonnenberg: “This bill reminds me of the story of the three Billy Graf goats. I think there are predators that will wait until the wildlife crosses the bridge to enter directly into the animal food chain.”

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