Friday, December 21, 2012

School nixes ungulate idea

ITD not favorable to highway silhouettes of wildlife

Express Staff Writer

Third-graders at Hailey Elementary School are trying to protect elk such as these that live in the East Fork area and all too frequently cross back and forth on state Highway 75. Photo by Mountain Express

Hailey Elementary School has decided against a plan by third-graders to place silhouettes of elk and other ungulates along state Highway 75 as a reminder to drivers that wildlife frequently cross the roadway.

Word of the cancellation came Wednesday from school Principal Tom Bailey, who said the idea does not seem favorable to the Idaho Transportation Department or to the owners of property where the silhouettes might have been placed.

“These were third-graders who were trying to do a public service, but we’re not going to do anything that’s contrary to the property owners or ITD,” Bailey said.

Building and placing life-size silhouettes of deer, elk and moose was part of plan by some 90 Hailey third-grade students to call attention to the high mortality of animals on Highway 75 and to remind drivers to slow down at wildlife crossings.

Another part of the plan was making and selling bumper stickers showing elk and deer and stating “Keep Them Alive on 75.” Bailey said that part of the program has been successful in calling attention to the plight of wildlife when animals attempt to cross the highway.

The third-graders raised about $500 through a baked-goods sale that was used to pay for making 250 bumper stickers that they are selling for $3 each. The $750 raised from bumper sticker sales was to be used for making the wildlife silhouettes.

Bailey said the school has no immediate plans for how proceeds from the bumper sticker sales will now be used.

“We’re probably just going to stick with the bumper stickers and leave it at that,” he said.

Confirmation of ITD’s concern about the life-size silhouettes came Wednesday from Nathan Jerke, spokesman for ITD District 4 in Shoshone.

“It worries ITD,” Jerke said. “The concern is that if people get used to seeing these silhouettes, what happens when it’s a real deer and they think it’s a silhouette. It’s just one more distraction for them when they’re driving down the highway.”

Jerke said placing signs in the highway right-of-way would require that ITD issue a permit and that the school had not applied to the agency for permission. ITD became aware of the idea after being contacted by the Idaho Mountain Express and after seeing a story on the project in the newspaper’s Dec. 14 edition.

“The silhouettes are a good reminder that there are animals out there, but it can be confusing to people if there’s a real animal out there,” Jerke said.

Nonetheless, Jerke said the third-graders deserve credit for trying to address the problem.

“The kids and the teachers have good intentions and they’re thinking out of the box,” he said.

Jerke noted that ITD continues evaluating highway-sensor systems that could flash warnings to motorists if large animals are in the vicinity of the highway.

Vehicle-versus-elk-or-deer collisions have been frequent in the Wood River Valley this year, with accidents occurring as high as three or four per week earlier in the fall. While injuries to people are uncommon, the collisions are almost always fatal to the animal.

“All we intend to do is make people aware of the problem and slow down,” Bailey said. “If you drive down the road and you see a bumper sticker and it reminds you to slow down, that’s good. If the kids can do the awareness and get the bumper stickers out there and raise some awareness, that’s what they wanted to do, and I’m proud of them and their sense of community service.”

Terry Smith:

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