The Western Slope Wildlife Prioritization Study (WSWPS) was a joint project with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to identify wildlife-highway conflict areas across the western portions of the state. The research team identified, mapped and prioritized highway segments based on the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions and the need for mule deer and elk to make cross-highway movements, particularly during migration or within winter range. Field reviews were conducted of the top 5-percent priority segments to identify opportunities for wildlife crossings and other mitigation strategies within the highest priority segments. Preliminary mitigation recommendations for the top 5-percent segments in each region were developed based on the findings of the field surveys and the latest research on the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies for different species.
The focus of this research was to develop practical outcomes and decision support tools for integrating wildlife mitigation into transportation projects, including a comprehensive benefit-cost analysis (BCA) tool for wildlife mitigation project planning. Building on existing methods for conducting BCA, the research team also sought to include the value of wildlife killed in collisions and the residual value of large wildlife crossing structures. The resulting automated Excel tool is designed to be used by CDOT and its partners to evaluate the benefits and costs of wildlife-highway mitigation projects for the purposes of transportation planning, wildlife mitigation prioritization and eligibility for potential state and federal funds.
The outcomes of this study are now driving mitigation project planning and budgeting for new wildlife-highway mitigation projects across the Western Slope. The Colorado Department of Transportation presented the outcomes of the WSWPS to transportation planners and stakeholders across the state. Additionally, we identified each of the top 5-percent segments identified in the study as critical corridor improvement needs during the most recent update to its Statewide Long Range Transportation Plan. These efforts led to the prioritization of 17 wildlife mitigation projects across the Western Slope for funding within the next 10-years, and 25 projects across the state. Additionally, the outcomes of the WSWPS have pinpointed priority projects for Federal Grant opportunities and other partnerships, and will direct our efforts to comply with both Secretarial Order 3362, and Colorado’s Executive Order D 2019 011 which are aimed at supporting big game winter ranges and migratory corridors.
The study is currently being expanded and adapted to Colorado’s Eastern Slope and Plains for a complete statewide prioritization.