By Gregory Foley
Idaho Mountain Express (Ketchum)
With collisions between big-game animals and state Highway 75
motorists seemingly on the rise, the Idaho Transportation Department
has commenced new research on how it can minimize the often
Chuck Carnohan, ITD senior environmental planner, said Monday
that the state agency in 2004 and beyond would work to determine
how ITD and other agencies could limit collisions between
game animals and motor vehicles at several locations in the
Wood River Valley.
"ITD is eagerly trying to find ways to reduce these
collisions," Carnohan said. "I have seen plenty
of dead animals all over the state and the Wood River Valley
is no exception."
At issue is an apparent steady stream of typically high-impact
encounters between wild ungulatesparticularly deer and
elkand an ever-increasing number of motorists traveling
on the 27-mile stretch of Highway 75 between Timmerman Hill
Carnohan said ITD officials, in researching the environmental
impacts of a proposal to widen Highway 75 through most of
the Wood River Valley, determined that they wanted to examine
the issue of highway road-kill incidents.
To begin the process, ITD and a consultant earlier this month
issued maps that identify four established road-kill "hot
spots" along Highway 75 in the Wood River Valley.
The four hot spots ITD will likely focus its efforts on include
areas throughout the Wood River corridor in proximity to excellent
game habitat. They are:
He noted that ITDs numbers are by no means scientific,
primarily because incidents that result in animals fleeing
the accident scene or being moved by other public agencies
are not recorded.
"We dont have any viable statistical counts of
the animals," he said. "We have done the best scientifically
with the numbers that we have."
A December 2003 ITD report estimates that "about 30
to 50 mule deer and a few elk are annually killed" along
Carnohan said the incidents do not likely have a significant
impact on local game populations but do cause significant
human injuries and monetary losses.
Rob Robinson, an ITD maintenance foreman based in Hailey,
said the Peregrine Ranch area is a notoriously "bad spot."
He noted that ITD workers since July have removed "12
to 14 deer" and "5 to 6 elk" from the area.
Robinson said a "field of feed, " or alfalfa, growing
on Peregrine Ranch attracts elk and deer to the east side
of the highway, while forested areas along the Big Wood River
on the west side provide cover and water.
Carnohan noted that he believes development and sprawl can
also encourage animal movement across highway corridors, as
some resident populations of ungulates are "pushed aside."
ITD in 2002 installed flashing signs to warn motorists of
the hazard in the Peregrine Ranch area. ITD officials, however,
noted this week that many motorists become accustomed to the
signs over time and simply ignore them.
Carnohan said ITD in the coming year will study what specific
measures can be applied to reduce road-kill incidents.
The potential use of bright signs, signs with blinking lights,
posts with light reflectors, underpasses, overpasses and various
types of fences will all be considered, he said.
The most promising alternative, Carnohan said, might be a
developing technology that could employ infrared light scanners
to notify oncoming motorists that an animal is in or near
Fencing, used with or without game underpasses or overpasses,
would be difficult to employ along Highway 75 because it could
prohibit access from the scores of intersecting roads and
driveways, Carnohan said.
Because ITD will likely not commence any project to widen
the highway until 2008 or 2009, developing technologies could
be more viable before extensive action is taken.
Rob Morris, a state Fish and Game conservation officer who
patrols parts of Blaine County, said he believes many injuries
to humans and game animals could be avoided in the interim
if motorists slowed down in the identified problem areas.
"Speed is definitely the thing that gets people into
trouble on Highway 75," Morris said.