Letter: US 40 between Craig and Steamboat needs major overhaul, including creating safe wildlife passages
Deer. Elk. Pronghorn. Raccoon. Skunk. Beaver. Mink. Fox. Marmot. Porcupine. Badger. Muskrat. Chipmunk. Coyote. Bear. Rabbit. Squirrel. Weasel.
This may seem like a near-exhaustive list of mammals you might find in the Rocky Mountains while on a sight-seeing tour. And while it is exactly that, in actuality, it is a list of creatures that anyone who drives between Steamboat Springs and Craig might discover in a scene of gruesome carnage, dead on the side of the road. If I dared to list them all, including birds, we would be here all day.
I commute to Hayden from Steamboat Springs five days a week for work, with frequent trips down to Craig as well. The loss of animal life due to collisions with vehicles on U.S. Highway 40 is horrific and saddening. My numbers show an average of eight skunks per week have been killed on U.S. 40 between Craig and Steamboat since June. Do some simple math and you start to wonder about the total number of skunks that live in the Yampa Valley.
I am not a biologist. I won’t make some claim about the extreme degradation of our skunk population. But I will argue that U.S. 40 has a significant and unnatural impact on the ecology of the Yampa River Valley.
What can we do about it? As it turns out, we are lightyears away from hovercrafts and teleportation. We can urge the public to pay more attention when they drive, teach them to slow down and anticipate how usually a second animal crosses the road after the first. But it wouldn’t come close to mitigating this magnitude of damage.
U.S. 40 between Steamboat Springs and Craig needs a major physical infrastructure overhaul that aims at creating safe wildlife passages. I’m not an engineer either, but I envision a multi-pronged approach — wildlife bridges, expanded corridors under bridges at water drainages, fencing.
Alas this is likely a pipe dream. There aren’t enough collisions with big mammals. Big mammals cause human damage, which unfortunately seems to be the surest way of shining a spotlight on a problem like this. While this is assuredly warranted, I believe that the significant destruction of any creatures should be taken seriously, no matter how big they are.
If we pride the Yampa Valley on its abundance and variety of wildlife, then we need to stop killing them. I am prepared to take this pipe dream to the next step. If a reader is interested in contributing thoughts, ideas or anything else, I would be happy to take your email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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