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Town of Vail pursues fencing to prevent bighorn sheep from dying on Interstate 70

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April 2, 2020, 8:24 pm

Following the loss of three bighorn sheep in recent months due to vehicle collisions on Interstate 70 in East Vail and the continued danger to motorists and wildlife, the Town of Vail is working with its partners from the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to install temporary fencing along the north side of the North Frontage Road in an attempt to keep the sheep from accessing any roadway.

As designed, the fencing will run from the East Vail Interchange along the north side of the North Frontage Road west to Katsos Road. The town is in the process of obtaining the relevant permitting to install the 8 feet tall temporary fence within the right-of-way. Construction will begin immediately upon approval and will remain in place until the middle or end of June. The town has contracted with Strategic Fence & Co. for the approximately $18,000 project which the Town of Vail is funding. During construction, the westbound Frontage Road shoulder will be closed for one to two days.

While wildlife fencing is not an ideal solution according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, this circumstance has been deemed an emergency measure. District Wildlife Manager Devin Duval says that typically wildlife fencing is discouraged unless the fencing can be installed permanently with no breaks, 8 feet tall to prevent animals from jumping over it, and run the entire length of the town, similar to the I-70 highway fencing west of Vail. However, because the East Vail/Gore Range sheep herd are regularly present in the area and have been drawn to the application of magnesium chloride on the interstate, the most appropriate measure at this time is to create a physical barrier in this location.

Previous attempts by the town and CPW to prevent the sheep from entering the highway have included the use of predator scent, directional sound deterrents, code enforcement officers and flashing signs – all with limited success. Mineral lick placements, while discussed, are not a preferred option due to disease transmission, predation risks, habituation and increased degradation of winter habitat. The town will continue to explore additional solutions with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Due to the increased pressure of public presence in the area and the critical time of year as the ewes head into lambing season, the sheep are particularly stressed. The town and CPW ask the public to please avoid hiking, walking and backcountry skiing in the area near the East Vail Rockfall berm, and near Booth and Pitkin Creek trails. As always, if you must walk in the area, please remember all dogs must be on leash.

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