Crashes and Crossings: Resilient Habitats and Highway Fatalities
Hundreds of thousands of collisions occur between Utah drivers and deer, elk (pictured above) and moose each year. (Image: USFWS/Lee Eastman)
Two of my friends were driving home one evening when they hit a beautiful mule deer buck. The buck was thrown onto the hood of their car and his antlers went through the windshield, pinning my friend Vicky in her seat. Fortunately, she was a slim woman and the antlers penetrated the seat on either side of her. It did take several hours to get her out. She suffered a broken arm and their car was totaled.
In some ways my friends were very lucky. Vicky recovered and insurance helped them replace the car. Many people are not so fortunate. Last November, the Logan Herald Journal reported on a study that documented an increase in deer-vehicle crashes and found that more people die in head-on collisions with deer than any other wildlife species (Deer-vehicle Crash Effect Underestimated, Nov. 26, 2010). Furthermore, the Institute found that 30% of deer deaths were from vehicle crashes. In that same article, a USU Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist said this trend was expected to increase as wildlife habitat declines due to human developments in their winter range and migration routes.
In Utah, about 98% of wildlife collisions are with deer (300,000) and only about 2% with elk (60,000) and moose (4,000). DWR has spent as much as $156,000 in a year just to get dead animals off the roadway. Annually, UDOT spends about $400,000 for carcass removal. This doesn’t include the costs to individual drivers from vehicle damage, medical treatment, or death. The population of Utah and the number of licensed drivers is growing. This makes the issue of deer-vehicle collisions a growing safety and conservation priority.
The migration corridor that connects the Wasatch Plateau to the Tavaputs Plateau is separated by a dangerous at-grade segment of US 6 between Spanish Fork and Green River. Utahans know many vehicle-wildlife collisions occur there that result in fatalities and terrible injuries to both humans and wildlife.
The Sierra Club’s Resilient Habitat campaign is working to help wildlife survive climate change in a variety of ways. One of those ways is to establish and protect corridors between core habitat areas so wildlife can move from one place to another as they need to in order to survive. The establishment of corridors includes helping wildlife cross particularly dangerous highways like US 6.
As part of the 2011 Resilient Habitat campaign goals, we plan to investigate and gather information on the number of wildlife collisions on US 6. We want to quantify financial losses to insurance companies from vehicle damage and human medical treatment. Armed with these facts, we hope to develop a partnership between a variety of interested parties both governmental and nongovernmental to fund, construct, and scientifically implement a safe wildlife crossing system across US 6.
Guest column by Marion Klaus, chair of the Utah Chapter and member of the Resilient Habitats Campaign. Originally published in the Utah Sierran.