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County wants to make route safer for deer, motorists

By Pat Murphy
Mountain Express

The Blaine County Commission in January, formally requested funds to study the complicated problem of preventing deer and elk from collisions with vehicles on state Highway 75 that leave upwards of 50 of the animals killed each year and heavy property damage or loss to drivers.

If approved by the Idaho Transportation Department, the requested $64,500 would be pooled with $1,300 in county funds and another $500 in private donations in what is titled, the State Highway 75 Wildlife Crossing Mitigation Project.

The study, according to Commission Chairman Dennis Wright, would attempt to gather statistics on population of ungulates that cross Highway 75, what attracts them to cross the highway—such as water or food sources—and what technological devices might be available to warn motorists and wildlife and avoid collisions.

The ITD has designated four hot spots in a 27-mile stretch of highway 75 between Ketchum and just south of Bellevue as major migration crossings.

However, farther south and east of Highway 75, a wildlife crossing on U.S. 20 between Picabo and Carey has avoided road kills for the past week or so.

Carey Mayor Rick Baird, who also is manager of Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, told the commissioners that a battery-powered flashing light at the migration crossing on U.S. 20 seems to have stemmed the road kills.

"There’ve been no road kills in the past week," Baird said, ascribing it to the lights. He said such devices should be installed in the spring and fall when the elk and deer migrant. If left flashing year-round, Baird said motorists might become blasé and ignore the lights.

Commissioner Sarah Michael said the Transportation Department plans to test a system of reflectors at Peregrine Ranch, just north of Hailey, which is one of the four major migration routes along Highway 75. The reflectors are designed to warn wildlife of auto traffic.

Michael also said that U.S. vehicle-wildlife collisions have become a major factor in soaring insurance losses. She quoted the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as reporting collisions with wildlife in the Lower 48 states have cost $1.1 billion in losses, 150 human lives and the loss of 1.5 million deer since the organization began keeping statistics.

Wright said that public attention often focuses on the plight of the wildlife but overlooks devastating property losses and human injuries.

He described the terror a driver of a small car would experience if a large elk or deer were struck, and perhaps propelling the heavy animal through the windshield and into the driver’s lap.