Wildlife safety zone bill passes out of Colorado House
DENVER, Colorado – A bill aimed at reducing the amount of wildlife being killed on the state’s highways was approved by the Colorado House of Representatives Wednesday.
HB 1238, sponsored by state Rep. Kathleen Curry, an independent from Gunnison whose district includes the Roaring Fork Valley, would authorize the Colorado Department of Transportation and Division of Wildlife, with input from other agencies, to establish wildlife crossing zones along sections of highways in the state.
The bill passed on third reading Wednesday. It now goes to the Colorado Senate, where another area legislator, Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Pitkin County, is the lead sponsor.
The intent of the legislation is to create wildlife crossing zones in areas where there’s a higher rate of vehicle-wildlife collisions, possibly including sections of State Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.
Similar to construction zones, the zones could be subjected to reduced speed limits and double the fines for violators. Lower nighttime speed limits, such as those found on State Highway 13 between Rifle and Meeker, could also be imposed.
The bill passed 35-28, roughly along partisan lines with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed. The bill’s passage didn’t come without some joking by one opponent, Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Logan County, who encouraged rejection of the measure.
He offered an amendment to put up special crossing signals for wildlife.
“Let’s create a device, where they can used their little nose to push a button when they want to cross,” Sonnenberg commented during final House debate on the bill.
It’s no joking matter though for one local supporter, Carbondale wildlife activist and town trustee Frosty Merriott.
“You can make all the jokes you want about it, but it’s a serious issue and it’s not funny for people who have hit wildlife or who have lost loved ones in a wildlife collision, or who love wildlife,” Merriott said Wednesday.
Merriott has been lobbying for several years for the state to reduce the nighttime speed limit in wildlife crossing zones to 55 mph, in order to allow for better reaction time by motorists when encountering wildlife on the roadway.
Curry could not be reached for comment before deadline Wednesday. On the Senate side, the bill will first be referred to the Senate Transportation Committee.
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