Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Community mulls wildlife crossing

Group to study issue, look for solutions

Express Staff Writer

A group dedicated to minimizing vehicle-elk conflicts is coming together after a meeting Monday to determine who should be involved and what the group should study.

Representatives of the Idaho Transportation Department, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Idaho Conservation League and the U.S. Forest Service met Monday to brainstorm how to protect people—and elk—on the highway, as well as who might be able to help.

County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the group, known as the Wildlife Crossing Committee, will be an advisory committee of roughly 10 members that will make recommendations to the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee regarding safety of people and wildlife on the highway.

McCleary said she wished to limit the group’s membership in order to make the group more streamlined.

“We can be inclusive—there is a role for everybody—but we want to make sure we’re effective and efficient,” she said.

She said she was looking for people with relevant work experience, volunteer experience, communications and marketing experience and the ability to attend most, if not all, committee meetings.

Connie Jones, spokeswoman for the Idaho Transportation Department, said she would serve as ITD’s representative and urged McCleary to choose members of the committee from the group that attended Monday’s meeting. If people could not attend that meeting, she argued, perhaps they could not be counted on to complete the work and research that would need to be done in the future.

“We have to have people we can count on,” she said. “I think [others] might be interested, but I’m not sure they would be willing to do the actual work. Just showing up once a month won’t really help us.”

Jones said she was referring to people such as large landowners whose property borders the highway. The group does need the support of landowners, she said, but they might not be willing to do the research required.

Several citizens at large are set to serve on the committee, however, and represent the larger community. Former Hailey Mayor Rick Davis said he could be an asset as he serves on the board of the Wood River Land Trust and drives the highway from Hailey to Ketchum each workday. Kaz Thea, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, said she also could be helpful to the committee due to her previous position working with ITD on road and wildlife issues.

“Lots of people have said, ‘You should be on that committee!’” she said with a laugh. “So here I am.”

McCleary said the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will also be invited to participate. Walter Burnside, project engineer for ITD, said the Sheriff’s Office would be a key partner because it may need to enforce some solutions, such as lower speed limits in certain sections of the highway. Burnside also said the department has some funding for projects to help keep wildlife and drivers safe.

McCleary said all committee meetings would be open to the public.  The next meeting will be held the week of April 22, exact date and time to be determined.

Kate Wutz:

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