Utah earned its spot as the first in the nation to install a wildlife crossing nearly 50 years ago.
The crossing was near Beaver on I-15 and since then, high priority areas have been targeted with 50 crossings or other wildlife infrastructure, like fencing. Protective measures taken on U.S. 6 garnered a national award.
Despite this year’s record snowpack in areas of Utah, Blair Stringham, migration coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife, said collisions have not kept pace with the snow that never seems to end.
“We have not seen a lot of collisions over last year,” he said. “We are not seeing a huge uptick in deer being hit by cars.”
Snow, however, has led to huge herds of elk and deer forcing closures of major interstates like I-80 and I-215.
However, regional troublesome areas will get a boost in wildlife infrastructure with a $20 million appropriation this year approved by Utah lawmakers and endorsed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
That $20 million can be leveraged to get more federal money, Stringham added, with the Utah Department of Transportation taking point to coordinate with the wildlife agency on appropriation locations for fencing, bridges, etc.
The Pew Charitable Trusts praised Utah leaders for demonstrating bipartisan support of more crossings that have helped reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions throughout the West.
It said that nearly 5,000 deer and 1,000 elk are killed in vehicle collisions in Utah each year. A 2019 study estimates that these and other wildlife-vehicle accidents cost Utah taxpayers nearly $138 million in human injuries and deaths and damage to vehicles, the organization said.
The $20 million allocation for the 2023 fiscal year follows $1 million in fiscal 2022 seed funding and is the latest in Utah’s history of investments in wildlife crossings.
Nic Callero, officer with Pew’s U.S. public lands and rivers conservation project, issued this statement:
“Each dollar spent on mitigating wildlife-vehicle collisions will return dividends in savings for taxpayers by reducing crashes and both human and animal injuries and deaths, and reconnecting fractured habitat. Wildlife crossings are a proven technology that save lives and money,” he continued.
Please avoid this area if possible and drive carefully and slowly. ⚠️ https://t.co/Q0JEsb71OX— UtahDWR (@UtahDWR) February 1, 2023
Michael Dax, Western Wildway director at Wildlands Network, praised the investment.
“This investment represents the second most money that a state has allocated for wildlife crossings in the country. Wildlands Network is really encouraged by this display of leadership, and we look forward to seeing UDOT and UDWR put this money on the ground to make our roads safer for drivers and wildlife.”