SOUTH FORK- It is no secret to those who reside in the South Fork area that local wildlife make it their home during the winter months. Now, this can be both a blessing and a disaster at the same time depending on how the situation is perceived. On one hand, it is a joy to see deer and other local wildlife in close proximity to town as is the case in many San Luis Valley communities but it also comes with the risk of injury or even death when in a vehicle traveling at high speeds.
Throughout the winter months, deer come down from the high country in search of food as well as slightly warmer temperatures. Once hunting season comes to its final close, these animals drift toward what are considered wintering area which can be found on Google Maps at this link https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/KMZ-Maps.aspx. South Fork is one of the largest wintering areas in the South Fork region and that in and of itself is why so many frequent the area.
According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) District Wildlife Manager Jeremy Gallegos, “CPW has identified a mule deer migration corridor just east of South Fork and mapped pretty much from Del Norte to South Fork as highway crossings. There are also multiple migratory patterns identified in and around South Fork, that are routes that deer often take as they are moving within winter range and winter concentration areas.”
Because of this, Highway 160, just east of South Fork can be dangerous to drive during certain times of the day and travelers in the area need to use extra caution. “These daily movements are what people need to be mindful of as many of the deer that cross Highway 160 are doing so twice a day. In the evening, many cross and spend the night in the fields along the river. The following morning, they cross back, and spend the day in the Pinon/Juniper foothills on the south side of Highway 160. These daily movements often coincide when people are driving to and from work, presenting the unfortunate opportunity for deer to get hit on the highway.”
The only thing anyone can do to avoid an accident with a local mule deer in the South Fork area is SLOW DOWN! It is all too often the case in deer collisions that vehicles are traveling at a high rate of speed (even the 65 MPH speed limit) during the early morning or evening twilight hours and do not have time to react to a deer jumping out into the road or casually walking out just in time to meet a vehicle.
This time of year, often heralds dangerous roads due to snow as well as local wildlife and travelers are urged to slow down and be cautions of both. “Another item to keep in mind is the breeding season for mule deer. The peak of the rut is usually early December, and bucks don’t have watching out for traffic on their mind! These bucks are constantly on the move in search of females, presenting a higher probability of getting hit on the highway.”
Gallegos gives one last piece of advice for traveling in any Colorado area when deer or other wildlife may be present, “the No. 1 preventative measure? - slow down. When someone is traveling with me, they watch out for deer with me as I drive if we are in between Del Norte and South Fork. They often spot the deer before I do since they can concentrate on that. If traveling alone, don’t let yourself get distracted while driving. Pay attention to signs and message boards - there’s a reason they are there, and it’s for your safety (and the safety of some critters, too).” Be safe out there and stay deer aware!