SALT LAKE CITY — As they’ve done for more than 40 years, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Department of Transportation continued pushing towards lessening the amount of wildlife/vehicle collisions.
It’s believed that more than 4,500 deer and elk-related collisions resulted in animal fatalities in 2020.
However, DWR and UDOT worked together to install six new wildlife crossings this past year. Along with overpasses, bridges and culverts, areas of eight-foot-tall fencing were installed in various parts of the state to urge animals to move along the fence line towards a safe crossing area.
“There’s a large body of research that shows that crossings and fencings are really effective,” said Daniel Olson, Utah DWR’s Wildlife Mitigation Initiative Coordinator. According to DWR, studies indicate that there’s a 90% reduction in wildlife/vehicle collisions in areas where crossing structures and fencing have been installed.
In 1975, the first wildlife crossing was built in Beaver on I-15. Since then, nearly 60 wildlife crossings have been built in Utah. The most notable, due to a viral video of animals using the crossing, is Parleys Summit crossing bridge which is located near Parleys Summit on I-80.
“When you see a project like this working, when you see the animals crossing and recognize that each one of those animals could potentially cause a crash on our roads that’s keeping people safe, that’s keeping animals safe,” said John Gleason, Public Information Officer for Utah Department of Transportation.
The video of bears, deer, cougars and other animals crossing has been shared countless times on social media. The Parleys bridge was built in 2018 and cost roughly $5 million according to DWR.
“I’ve got to tell you, we’re amazed, we are amazed. We thought it would take a few years for the animals to recognize that that was there,” said Brandon Weston, Environmental Services Director for Utah Department of Transportation. “This was a really unique project and it was a great success.”
Both UDOT and Utah DWR recognize that building these crossings and putting in fencing takes a lot of interagency cooperation and even involved partnership from neighboring states.
“There’s a lot of cross-boundary work on these issues, a lot of good work happening in the western states around us,” said Olson. Some of these species that we manage in Utah, only spend a part of the year in Utah so they’re moving from Utah to Colorado or Utah to Arizona, so it’s really important that we work with the states next to us.”
One of the most successful projects includes a series of culverts built along US-89 in southern Utah focused on mule deer migration.
“The forecast is looking like we still have a lot of work to do and there’s new areas popping up all the time as areas are developed and become busier that need to be addressed,” said Olson. “There’s still a lot of work to be done as the roads become busier.”
With no firm plans in place for 2021, it appears that UDOT and Utah DWR will continue working on wildlife crossings.
“Safety is the number-one goal of the traveling public but also trying to preserve and protect wildlife,” said Weston.