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Will fireworks stampede elk into S.L. downtown?

SHARE Will fireworks stampede elk into S.L. downtown?

Imagine a herd of 150 elk bounding toward the downtown Olympic Medals Plaza just after the closing ceremonies have culminated Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Games.

Sounds farfetched, but how about big game bursting down Foothill Drive to 400 South over TRAX light-rail lines and through traffic?

According to several Salt Lake residents and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources employees, it's something the Salt Lake Organizing Committee might be inadvertently encouraging.

The encouragement would come through a series of fireworks displays that SLOC has planned for the closing ceremonies the night of Feb. 24. Those pyrotechnics could spook large numbers of elk, moose and deer living nearby, said Bill James, Division of Wildlife Resources habitat section chief.

"At this point we're not trying to be the ruiner of a major Olympic event," James said. "We just don't want to see 150 elk running around the University of Utah. We don't want elk in the medals plaza."

The fireworks make up the grand Olympic finale and would be launched from several places throughout Salt Lake City, including This is the Place Heritage Park and various locales in the foothills above the University of Utah.

The problem, James said, is that these same locations are the few places where big game can find food in the winter.

And with fireworks booming overhead, the animals are bound to spook; it's just a matter of to where they run.

"It's a pretty significant issue," James said. "It would become a bigger issue if a herd of elk got loose downtown. A stray moose is something we can address and have addressed, but a herd of 160 elk is entirely a different matter."

Dave Hintze, DWR Regional supervisor, is working with SLOC to find an answer to the problem but what that solution might be remains a mystery.

James suggested some of the herds might have to be moved, but DWR officials, at this point, have stopped short of asking SLOC to move the location of the fireworks.

The concern has grabbed the attention of local residents who are accustomed to seeing deer dart across busy thoroughfares such as Sunnyside Avenue and Foothill Boulevard.

"It's the noise and how it affects the wildlife and animals," said Sunnyside neighborhood resident Norma Matheson, wife of the late former Gov. Scott Matheson.

Local resident Susan Prescott suggested that traffic along Sunnyside and Foothill might be blocked during the closing ceremonies so as to avoid any animal versus car collisions.

Still, that wouldn't help if the animals scattered past the busy streets west into downtown.

Additionally, some have voiced concerns about how the fireworks will affect animals at Hogle Zoo, which sits across the street from Heritage Park.

Prescott, who worked for years at Salt Lake's Tracy Aviary, said birds there were often frightened by Pioneer Day fireworks.

"Some were startled to flight in the dark and would hit various structures hard," she said. "We had a broken wing or two."

Already SLOC has abandoned a plan to launch fireworks from Bonneville Golf Course, noting it was too near the zoo.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com