State wildlife, road officials work to keep deer, motorists safe with animal crossing infrastructure

ST. GEORGE — In an ongoing effort to keep both animals and motorists safe, state wildlife and highway officials are working on creating more highway crossings for deer and other animals in order to decrease collisions across the state.

A truck is heavily damaged after its driver swerved to miss a deer, causing the vehicle to roll, Washington County, Utah, Dec. 11, 2016 | File photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, around 6,300 deer and elk were killed in vehicle collisions on Interstate 15 and state roads in 2019.

“Ninety percent of the big game animals killed in wildlife/vehicle collisions are deer, primarily because they are the most abundant big game animal in Utah, but also due to their migratory nature,” Utah DWR officials said in a press release issued Monday.

About 150 people are killed in deer-versus-vehicle collisions annually, and tens of thousands of others are injured, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The DWR and the Utah Department of Transportation have been working on reducing collisions in Utah since the mid-1970s. The nation’s first wildlife overpass was built in Utah in 1975 on I-15 near Beaver. Since then, around 50 wildlife crossings have been installed throughout the state. The crossings typically take several months to build, depending on the size and weather conditions.

Wildlife using an overpass crossing in northern Utah, date unspecified. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

These crossings are typically placed along migration routes to allow deer to reach their different feeding ranges safely. Culverts, which allow wildlife to cross under a roadway make up the majority of Utah’s wildlife crossings; however, the structures vary and can include the following:

  • Overpasses, which allow wildlife to cross over a roadway.
  • Bridges, which allow wildlife to cross over a river or ravine.
  • Fences, which eliminate roadway crossings in certain areas and instead funnel the animals to an overpass or culvert where they can safely cross a road.

According to the DWR, studies show a 90% reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions where an animal crossing infrastructure has been introduced.

“Having these crossings not only benefits wildlife populations but also protects motorists and helps them stay safer by reducing the chance of these collisions,” Eric Edgley, DWR habitat section chief, said in the press release. “We really appreciate the support and coordination of UDOT on helping make these wildlife crossings possible. Their partnership on this has been invaluable.”

The scene of a deer vs. car collision that left a woman dead near Richfield, Utah, Oct. 14, 2018 | File photo courtesy of Utah Highway Patrol, St. George News

UDOT and DWR are working on identifying spots across the state where wildlife crossings are needed and can be built.

Over the last year in Southern Utah, additional wildlife fencing was added to the west side of I-15 between Cedar City and Paragonah in Iron County. Several double cattle guards were also installed at a few interchanges in the area. These new installations supplemented several culverts, underpasses, bridges and fencing on the east side of I-15 that had been installed in the area previously.

Projects planned for 2020 include installing fencing on I-15 at milepost 22 near Leeds. This area already has existing culverts and an underpass for wildlife in the area.

Additional plans include:

  • A double culvert will be installed under I-15 in Baker Canyon near milepost 143, near Cove Fort.
  • Some wildlife fencing will also be installed in the same area from milepost 134 to milepost 145. According to DWR, there have been 255 deer-vehicle collisions on this stretch of I-15 since 2007.

Deer hot spots in Iron and Washington counties

In Washington County, areas along I-15 considered by the Utah Highway Patrol and other agencies to be deer hot spots are the areas around miles 22-23 near Leeds and mile 42 on the Black Ridge. Along state Route 18 is also be prone to deer crossings.

Deer near a culvert used allowing the herd to pass under a roadway in southern Utah, date unspecified. | Photo courtesy of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, St. George News

Deer can also be an issue on Old Highway 91, particularly between Beaver Dam and Gunlock.

In Iron County, the DWR previously told St. George News that the junction of state Route 14 and U.S. Route 89, more commonly known as “Todd’s Junction,” is also a deer hot spot.

State Route 56 from Cedar City to New Castle is another area to watch for deer in Iron County.

Deer activity is generally highest between October and December, as mating season for the animals is in full swing.

The following are ways motorists can “drive smarter” when it comes to animals in the roadway, courtesy of AAA:

  • Keep your eyes on the road and scan ahead. Continuously scan from left to right for signs of deer or other animals, as they can come from any direction. While animal collisions usually occur when an animal darts in front of a car, they can also run into the side of a vehicle. Scanning ahead will help you spot them from afar.
  • Emergency personnel at the scene where a deer jumped into a motor home’s windshield Saturday morning on Red Hills Parkway. St. George, Utah, Sept. 2, 2017 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

    Be especially attentive during commute hours. Deer and many other animals are most active during commuting hours – roughly between 5-8 a.m. and 5-8 p.m. Since animals are most likely to travel during this period, it’s important to be extra cautious when driving to and from work.

  • Use high beam headlights at night if there’s no oncoming traffic. When driving at night, the extra light may help you spot animals sooner and give you more time to slow down or move over. A long blast of your horn can also frighten large animals away from your vehicle.
  • Watch for other deer. Deer typically travel in herds and rarely travel alone. If you see one, you should proceed with caution  because chances are there are others nearby.
  • Brake firmly and remain in your lane if impact is imminent. Serious accidents can occur when drivers swerve to avoid animals, causing them to hit oncoming vehicles or crash into fixed objects on the side of the road. If an animal is in your path, stay in your lane so you don’t confuse the animal into not knowing which way to run.
  • Always wear a seat belt. Most injuries in animal-vehicle collisions occur when passengers are not wearing their seat belt. Ensure you and your passengers are wearing a seat belt at all times.
  • Do not approach wounded animals. If an animal is wounded and frightened, it can be unpredictable and may cause you or others injury. Call the police or animal control agency if an animal is in the middle of the road and blocking traffic so they can take care of the situation accordingly.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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