Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 saw increase in wildlife collisions

Sheriff, ITD and school groups working toward solutions

Express Staff Writer

Vehicle-versus-wildlife encounters became more frequent on state Highway 75 in Blaine County in 2012. Efforts are now under way to protect animals such as these elk that live in the East Fork area. Photo by Mountain Express

Though motorists have been killing deer, elk and even moose on state Highway 75 for years, the number of encounters with the animals seemed to jump in 2012. Increasing also was public awareness of the issue and attempts to mitigate the number of vehicle-versus-wildlife accidents.

The humans involved in these collisions are not usually injured, but the encounters are almost always fatal to the animals.

“Absolutely it’s up,” said Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey. “I think I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past throughout the valley.”

This past fall especially, the number of accidents seemed high, with anywhere from two to four collisions being reported to the Sheriff’s Office per week.

The Idaho Transportation Department is now actively seeking a solution to reduce the number of accidents and two Blaine County School District student groups took on projects in the fall to come up with solutions of their own.

The situation has now become a frequent topic of discussion with the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, with the group agreeing that mitigating wildlife accidents should be a top highway funding priority for ITD.

Several options, such as building under-road animal migration tunnels for animals and imposing reduced nighttime speed limits on the highway, have been considered, but the sheriff and ITD are currently most favorable to installing electronic sensing systems in high animal-movement areas along the highway that would alert drivers with warning signs to slow down when large animals are near and might try to cross the roadway.

ITD is currently investigating the different types of systems and their applicability to Highway 75.

ITD officials earlier said under-road tunnels have been effective elsewhere for migratory animal herds but would not be as useful here because elk herds have established residency in the area, especially near East Fork, and are migrating back and forth across the highway too frequently. Construction of tunnels would also require long stretches of fencing to guide the animals to a tunnel.

Reducing speed limits to reduce collisions was supported by a Wood River High School physics class that studied the situation and determined that anyone driving 55 mph at night is unlikely to be able to stop in time if an elk or deer wander onto the highway. The class found that someone driving 40 mph would have adequate time to stop if an animal were spotted.

Some 90 Hailey Elementary School third-graders tackled the driver-awareness issue by producing and distributing bumper stickers that state “Keep them alive on 75.”

Terry Smith:

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