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New site studies why (and where) wildlife cross the road

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A newly launched website allows Colorado motorists to log on and report sightings of wildlife along the I-70 corridor between Golden and Glenwood Springs. While handy for alerting highway maintenance crews of roadkill, the backers of the site actually have more ambitious goals in mind.

Visitors to I-70 Wildlife Watch can use Google Earth maps of the interstate corridor to pinpoint an animal sighting (live or dead) within a tenth of a mile. The data is eagerly sought by researchers who are studying the areas where wildlife are most likely to cross the highway, where habitat connectivity is most in jeopardy, and what seems to work.

The program -- a partnership between the Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Division of Wildlife, environmental groups and the insurance industry -- is part of a larger effort to reduce wildlife-collisions in Colorado that includes the campaign to build a vegetation-covered wildlife bridge over Vail Pass, as explored in my July feature "The Bridge to Somewhere."

Last year, animal-vehicle encounters produced at least 3,300 accidents in Colorado, including seven fatalities. Based on estimates from highway maintenance workers, the actual rate of collision is even higher, since some mishaps are never reported. The most dangerous months are November and December, when herds are migrating and the advent of Daylight Savings Time puts more commuters on the road at dawn and dusk -- rush hour for ungulates.

The I-70 Wildlife Watch advice? Slow down, keep an eye out around crossing areas, and report the beasts that you see -- and that, ideally, didn't end up on your bumper -- with a few clicks.

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