Utah’s Largest Wildlife Overpass Sees Impressive Early Results

Graphic by Annabel Driussi

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

Dozens of animals are using Utah’s largest wildlife overpass sooner than expected, and experts are excited about what this means for the safety of people and local wildlife. The overpass, which was built over Interstate 80 in Utah, is 50 feet wide and 320 feet long and serves as a wildlife corridor

The Utah Department of Transportation’s (UDOT) Division of Wildlife Resources chose the site due to animals’ migratory patterns but didn’t expect animals to adjust to the new infrastructure so soon, only 2 years after the overpass’s completion. 

Why This Matters: Wildlife corridors and bridges have served as science-based inspiration for averting animal deaths on roads all over the globe. According to Defenders of Wildlife, there are 725,000 to 1.5 million wildlife-vehicle collisions in the United States each year. These collisions can cause 29,000 injuries to humans annually, but experts also point out that in some states, car collisions can be the primary threat to endangered species. For example, in 2007, 50 percent of all endangered Florida panther deaths were due to collisions. 

According to UDOT, in the two years before the overpass was built, there were 106 collisions between vehicles and animals. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that 98 deer, three moose, two raccoons, two elk, and one cougar, were killed in collisions during that time. Since the completion of the overpass, experts have noted an increase in safety not only for animals but for drivers as well

Even though Utah won’t have the official results for another few years, experts note that Florida and Colorado have already experimented with wildlife bridges, and Los Angeles plans to build the world’s largest wildlife bridge across a stretch of Highway 101. “You can get reductions of 85 to 95 percent with crossings and fencing that guide animals under or over highways,” said Rob Ament, the road ecology program manager at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University

A Motley Crew: The overpass includes three miles of fencing, disguised by logs and boulders, on either side to guide animals to the overpass. Over the last two years, cameras and drivers have witnessed a large assortment of animals crossing the bridge safely. On Facebook, viewers can see videos of deer, elk, black bears, bobcats, porcupines, coyotes, marmots, and more crossing the road safely overhead. 

Not only is it a rare matchup of animals, but a rare moment when infrastructure and nature come together to coexist. UDOT officials are excited about the increased public safety, and conservation organizations like Save People Save Wildlife are happy to retire an unsavory nickname for the stretch of road, once labeled “Slaughter Row.” 

Members of both groups are excited to see what kind of animals they’ll see crossing the road in the next few years but disheartened at one particular creature they see crossing the overpass all too often: humans. Despite warnings, people have been spotted walking and even skiing over the wildlife bridge. Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources is hoping to put an end to that by raising awareness online and on-site, maintaining the newfound harmony.

 

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