ITD to play key role in reducing vehicle-animal collisions

Idaho Mtn. Express
ITD will collaborate with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Blaine County and other government or community groups to identify ways to mitigate the high number of wildlife-vehicle accidents in the Wood River Valley. Formation of the new “wildlife committee” was discussed and announced at a recent meeting of the Blaine County Regional Transportation Committee, which meets monthly to discuss transportation issues.

“We can take the lead if no one else does,” said ITD Project Development Engineer Walter Burnside, whose agency is in charge of state highway projects. “We’re really looking at a group effort, involvement with other agencies and community interest groups. We agree that it’s an issue; we agree that it needs to be addressed.”

Several Idaho Department of Fish and Game staff members attending the meeting indicated the department would participate. Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary volunteered and said she will work with Burnside to find additional committee members.

While vehicles have been colliding with wildlife, mainly deer and elk, for many years along state Idaho 75, local and state authorities believe the number of collisions is increasing.

Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lee Garwood said elk herds are becoming more urbanized, with some herds taking up permanent residence in the valley and remaining through the year. He said one permanent group is just north of Hailey, one of the most active spots for collisions.

Fish and Game Staff Biologist Mike McDonald confirmed the number of collisions seems to be increasing.

“It’s not going to go away - in fact, it seems to be getting a little worse,” McDonald said.

Burnside said the committee will consider a number of options, such as building “fence and funnel” systems to guide animals to bridges or overpasses for crossing, installing electronic sensors that warn motorists when large animals are near the road, improving lighting, reducing nighttime speed limits and increasing motorist “education."

However, Burnside acknowledged that ITD has no funding for wildlife accident mitigation in the valley.

Mid-valley resident Kris Stoffer, who lives in the area north of Hailey with one of the highest numbers of collisions, said the committee also should address the issue of fences and berms along the highway, which she said have a tendency to make elk linger on the highway as they contemplate where to go next.

“I really appreciate this coming to the fore and becoming a priority,” Stoffer said.

Garwood noted the county ordinance requiring low lighting also compounds the issue.

“It makes it more difficult to see and to know what to do about it,” he said.

Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said the county’s “dark sky ordinance … just says that lights will be cast down. It doesn’t say there can’t be lights.”

Schoen, who attended the meeting even though he doesn’t serve on the Regional Transportation Committee, said there is significant public interest in the issue and the situation can be improved if the public works together.

For example, he cited a speed-limit change two years ago south of Bellevue at Timmerman Junction as an example of change ... He said that change has been highly effective in improving safety at the intersection of Idaho 75 and U.S. Highway 20.

“I think the engineering changes that were made were excellent, and we owe ITD our thanks for that,” Schoen said.

Burnside noted that slower speeds are an option for reducing wildlife collisions.

“It’s a possibility - we could certainly kick it around,” he said. “The whole idea with a warning system is to get people to slow down.”


Published 2-8-2013