According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s website, Denver County has the largest population in the state, with 704,621 people as of July 1, 2017. El Paso County is not far behind with 699,232 residents, as of that same date. The statistics represent a 12.4 percent population increase between 2010 and 2017, according to the website. With such growth, concerns arise about the welfare of local wildlife, especially the herd of pronghorn that call the Black Forest/Falcon area home.|
Julie Stiver, wildlife biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the herd of about 150 pronghorn is just one of the many that make up the estimated 12,000 total that live in Colorado. Some of the local pronghorn have left but there is no definitive cause, since the population tends to fluctuate between the seasons, she said. “During the winter, the herd sizes are at their largest and then they get smaller as spring comes,” Stiver said. “That number is always in flux, and they move around quite a bit more than people think.”
Stiver said development has definitely decreased the size of the pronghorn’s natural habitat but she does not think it has caused enough pressure to force them to leave. But concerned citizens have called CPW for years asking for that herd to be moved to a safer place, she said.
“When we hear that, we have to evaluate the risks versus the benefits of moving them,” Stiver said. “Pronghorn are the second-fastest land animal in North America. They can get into areas so fast; and, when they are panicking and running away, we have seen them run into fences or onto roads. They have the potential to break legs and do all sorts of things that could go really badly for the pronghorn and the people around there.”
Contrary to how it appears, Stiver said the pronghorn are not trapped in the fenced areas around Woodmen Road and up through Black Forest. The fences are permeable, and the developers and land owners have raised the lowest of the five barbed wire strands on the fences to allow the pronghorn to slip under them more easily, she said. If the pronghorn want to move, they can do so more safely by themselves than CPW physically moving them, Stiver said.
“When you move animals from an area and take them somewhere else, you have to move some portion of the habitat that makes them feel at home,” she said. “But they almost always try to go back home anyway; and, when they do that, their survival rate is typically lower than other animals in the area.”
In the case of the 150 pronghorn in question, taking them to another place, like farther into the Banning Lewis Ranch area, puts them at risk of crossing Highway 24 to try to get back home, Stiver said.
Currently, the pronghorn are not under any stress, which is characterized by the animals pacing back and forth along the fence lines, she said. However, Striver said she expects the amount of development in the area will reach a level where the animals do feel that stress.
“For the overall issue of development, I do not know if we are going to stop it,” she said. “That is private land and we respect that.” Concerned citizens can speak to the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners but one of the best ways to help the pronghorn is to work to change things within their immediate sphere of influence, Stiver said.
“Make modifications to your fence, talk to your neighbor about modifying their fence, start having those conversations with decision-makers in your area,” she said. “Fences are a total nightmare for wildlife in general.”
Stiver said the CPW website has a few links that provide information about how to modify fencing, including a guide titled, “Fencing with Wildlife in Mind.” They can be found at http://cpw.state.co.us.
With development not slowing or stopping anytime soon, Stiver said the pronghorn will eventually move away, and it is not something she wants to see happen. However, the overall pronghorn population is at the highest level it has been in the past 10 years, which is a positive thing, even if the animals decide to move from the area, she said.
“In a lot of these cases, the animals know what is best for them,” Stiver said. “It will probably be a much calmer situation if they can move on their own.”
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In February, The New Falcon Herald began a series on dangerous intersections in the Falcon area. The first in the series focused on the intersection of Meridian Road and Londonderry Drive. The article states that failure to yield right-of-way and inattentive driving were the leading causes of crashes at that site.|
This month, the NFH focused on two intersections: Flower Road and Meridian Road and Bent Grass Meadows Drive and Meridian Road. According to the Colorado State Patrol’s statistics team, failure to yield right-of-way and inattentive driving were the leading causes of accidents at both of these intersections as well.
Jennifer Irvine, county engineer with El Paso County, said the portion of Meridian that intersects with Flower Drive is not yet complete because it has not been accepted into the county’s roadway maintenance system; technically, the developer still has more work to do. The county has been plowing that area during snowstorms, even though it is not the county’s responsibility, she said.
“We have not had additional concerns about the intersection of Flower and Meridian, but if there is a safety issue, we will look into it,” Irvine said. She said she is unsure why the developer has not completed the necessary improvements.
Trooper Josh Lewis with the CSP said since 2013, accidents at Flower and Meridian have fluctuated in their frequency. The year with the highest amount of accidents was 2013 with eight, followed by 2015 with seven. Since 2013, 69.5 percent of the 23 total accidents there were caused by failure to yield right-of-way, and 47.8 percent were caused by improper left turns.
Accidents at this site most frequently occurred on Wednesdays, he said.
Conversely, the number of accidents at the intersection of Bent Grass Meadows Drive and Meridian Road in 2017 has nearly doubled from the amount in 2016 and tripled from the amount in 2015, Lewis said. “Failure to yield right-of-way crashes were up 150 percent in 2017 from 2016 and contributed to 83.3 percent of total crashes at this intersection in 2017,” he said.
Five accidents resulted in the injury of seven people at this intersection, five of whom were injured in 2017 alone, Lewis said.
“Half of the crashes at this intersection in 2017 occurred on Fridays,” he said.
Irvine said a light is planned for the Bent Grass Meadows and Meridian intersection, and is a requirement as a result of development there.
“That signal will go in when the intersection meets the traffic warrants as determined by federal requirements,” she said. “Once those are met, the light needs to go in. If we put in a signal before those warrants are met, many times it actually causes more accidents than it helps prevent.”
Those warrants are based on years of study and not determined arbitrarily, Irvine said. “Although a light is not warranted yet, it will be very, very soon,” she said.
Irvine said about 95 percent of the issues drivers have with any given area is a result of either a lack of education on the part of the driver or enforcement of the rules of the road. Accidents caused by engineering issues or by the response to an emergency make up the other 5 percent, she said.
The Colorado Driver Handbook explains right-of-way and proper left turns. “The law states who must yield the right-of-way; it does not give anyone the right-of-way, even if your traffic signal is green,” the handbook states. “You must do everything you can to prevent striking a pedestrian or another vehicle, regardless of the circumstances.” Additionally, it states that drivers turning left must yield to all oncoming traffic and anyone with a stop sign may only proceed after yielding to all pedestrians and vehicles.
“We need to encourage people to be safe, make sure they are wearing their seat belts, and following the rules of the road,” Irvine said. “Accidents do not typically happen as a result of inadequate infrastructure. Our top priority in the county is safety.”
Editor’s note: More intersections next month!