Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Committee mulls overpass for elk

Fish & Game: Passes would be poor investment

An elk crosses state Highway 75 south of Ketchum. Express photo file photo

A retiring Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist told the Blaine County Wildlife Crossing Sub-committee Monday that a wildlife overpass or underpass to help ungulates cross state Highway 75 would be a poor investment.
    The committee discussed on Monday a 2008 study that not only laid out statistics on how many wildlife collisions occurred on Highway 75, but also included recommendations for reducing those conflicts.
    Some options are more appealing than others, said county resident Alan Reynolds during Monday’s meeting, adding that some are more effective than others as well.
    Reynolds said fencing and animal-detection systems are more effective, especially signs that are set to light up when animals are detected in the area. A combination of fencing and signs triggered by detection systems can reduce vehicle-wildlife accidents by 92 percent, he said.
    Other members of the committee suggested overpasses or underpasses, which would allow the animals to pass to the other side of the highway without confronting traffic. However, retiring Idaho Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Mike Todd said many animals won’t use underpasses—prey don’t like to feel confined—and overpasses are not successful enough to consider investing in.
    “Elk do not like underpasses,” he said. “I really don’t think an underpass or overpass is going to solve your problem.”
    Todd said the best solutions might not be “socially palatable,” but they must be flexible enough to change as the county changes and the area around Highway 75 develops.
    He suggested enforcing lower speed limits, planting “lure crops” such as alfalfa in the Deer Creek drainage north of Hailey, and for the county to enact an anti-big-game-feeding ordinance and to crack down on private feeding operations.
    “Private feeding operations have caused us nothing but headaches and grief for years,” he said.
    He also suggested “culling” the herds mid-valley, arguing that the population has been inflated by feeding on private lands.
    “Those animals have learned that they don’t need to go anywhere else,” he said.
    Monday marked the third meeting of the Blaine County Wildlife Crossing Sub-committee, a subsidiary of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee that mainly focuses on how to reduce conflicts between wildlife and vehicles in the roadway. The purpose of the committee is to make recommendations to the Idaho Transportation Department regarding wildlife mitigation options.
    The next meeting of the sub-committee is Monday, June 3, at 11 a.m. at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Kate Wutz:

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