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.

 

Up Next

Record-breaking Year for Manatee Deaths

Record-breaking Year for Manatee Deaths

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Almost 1,000 of Florida’s manatees have died as of Oct.1 this year, setting a tragic record for the most deaths in a year, with two months left to go. Deaths were largely caused by starvation — the predator-less sea cows typically spend hours a day eating seagrass, but declining […]

Continue Reading 357 words
One Cool Thing: Where’s Walrus?

One Cool Thing: Where’s Walrus?

Do you have a good eye? Are you surprisingly good at Where’s Waldo and like Walruses? If so, we have great opportunity for you! The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is seeking volunteers to help count Atlantic walruses…from space.   Sea ice is retreating fast as global temperatures rise, forcing walruses to crowd on smaller floes […]

Continue Reading 174 words
China Pledges $230 Million to Protect Biodiversity

China Pledges $230 Million to Protect Biodiversity

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer At a UN conference in Kunming, China, President Xi Jinping set aside $230 million to form a fund that preserves biodiversity in developing countries. This announcement was made at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity talks (COP15) which are dedicated to preserving delicate ecosystems and preventing plants and animals […]

Continue Reading 315 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.