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Highway 75 road kills catch ITD’s eye
Agency researching ways to reduce accidents

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 dangerous encounters.

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 ungulates—particularly deer and elk—and an ever-increasing number of motorists traveling on the 27-mile stretch of Highway 75 between Timmerman Hill and Ketchum.

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:

  • An expansive area adjacent to Peregrine Ranch, north of Hailey, where numerous elk and deer routinely cross the highway.
  • A relatively small but problematic area between Bellevue and Glendale Road, south of the city, where a population of some 80 to 100 elk reside.
  • A long stretch of busy highway between East Fork Road and Reinheimer Ranch, south of Ketchum.
  • An approximately 1.5-mile expanse of highway immediately north of Bellevue, between the city limits and the Woodside Light Industrial Park. Carnohan said ITD identified the "hot spots" after reviewing a rough set of numbers reflecting how many dead or gravely injured animals ITD workers moved off the side of the highway in the last year.

He noted that ITD’s 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 don’t 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 the highway.

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 the road.

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.