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Less Road Kill: USU Efforts Improving Utah Highway Safety

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012

USU faculty member and researcher Patricia Cramer

In a wildlife culvert under U.S. Hwy 91 in Utah's Sardine Canyon, USU wildlife ecologist Patricia Cramer displays a camera used to monitor wildlife passage. Cramer conducts studies of wildlife crossings to ensure their effectiveness.

deer at wildlife crossing

Under Interstate 80 in Utah's Summit County, Cramer’s camera recorded deer using a new crossing along the Weber River. Findings indicate the crossing is allowing wildlife to avoid the busy highway, thus preventing animal-vehicle collisions.

You can lead a deer to a safe highway crossing but can you make the animal use it?

That’s a question Utah State University wildlife ecologist Patricia Cramer has explored for more than ten years and it appears the answer is yes.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reports, during the first six months of 2012, wildlife crossing structures have allowed more than 300 deer to safely pass at two of the state’s busy highway crossings. Cramer is leading efforts to monitor these crossings — one in Box Elder County’s Sardine Canyon and the other near Echo Junction in Summit County — and recommend improvements.

“When U.S. Highway 91 was widened through Sardine Canyon in the mid-1990s, the Utah Department of Transportation installed wildlife culverts, fencing and wildlife escape ramps to prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions,” says Cramer, assistant research professor in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources. “In 2009, we starting monitoring the culvert at milepost 8 and found it wasn’t as effective as it could be.”

The design of fences leading to the culvert, as well as gaps in the fencing, appeared to be the blame, Cramer says. UDOT and UDWR personnel, assisted by volunteers with the UDWR’s Dedicated Hunter program, repaired the gaps and made changes to fence to encourage deer to find and use the culvert.

Wildlife must get used to tunnels, she says. Tall fencing on both sides of the highway is needed to funnel animals into the safe passage area.

In 2012 in Summit County, UDOT installed two new bridges on Interstate 80 over the Weber River near the I-80/Interstate-84 interchange at Echo Junction. Soil pathways under the new bridges were included to provide wildlife — and human hikers — safe crossing under the well-traveled corridor that carries outdoor enthusiasts to popular Wasatch Back recreation areas.

At Echo Junction, UDOT and UDWR personnel, aided once again by Dedicated Hunter program volunteers, built escape ramps and fences to channel wildlife through the passages, along with fencing on nearby private land to prevent livestock from entering the area.

Throughout the state, UDOT has built nearly 60 crossings — underpasses and overpasses — for wildlife.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 200 Americans die in animal-vehicle accidents each year. In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control found that one quarter of all animal-vehicle collisions result in human injury.

The animals fare even worse. Mangled carcasses of deer and other wildlife are an all-too-frequent sight along Utah highways. Cramer is still haunted by the grisly image of a moose crushed by a vehicle on I-80 in 2008, as the animal attempted to return to its winter feeding grounds.

“Combining techniques such as wildlife corridor mapping, geographic information systems modeling and considering wildlife in long-range transportation plans, we can reduce these conflicts,” she says. “We need to come up with standardized highway planning methods for wildlife and commit the funds for future wildlife crossings. These efforts pay for themselves.”

Related links:

Contact: Patricia Cramer, 435-797-1289,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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