Utah Department of Transportation agrees to install wildlife fencing along Interstate 80
September 9, 2016
Several Summit County residents recently proved that a voice can be given to the voiceless.
The pressure that members of Save People Save Wildlife, a Summit County nonprofit organization, has placed on the Utah Department of Transportation over the last several months to install wildlife fencing along Interstate 80 appears to have paid off.
The Utah Department of Transportation, or UDOT, agreed this week to immediately install half a mile of permanent wildlife fencing along one side of the interstate near Parleys Canyon.
"I was speechless and so grateful that they not only heard us, but validated each and every one of our concerns," said Sharon Cantwell, a member of Save People Save Wildlife. "I have to say that I didn't think that such a large government organization could be swayed and I am absolutely blown away and thankful that they were and are installing the fencing."
“I have to say that I didn’t think that such a large government organization could be swayed and I am absolutely blown away and thankful that they were and are installing the fencing."
Members of the organization have claimed that the moose population is beginning to dwindle in the Snyderville Basin and that drivers are at risk, facing at least three collisions a week. The group was created to advocate for the fencing. Over the Fourth of July weekend, several members of the group staged a protest near the Jeremy Ranch exit displaying a 10-foot white banner that read, "Wildlife Slaughter Row, Shame on UDOT, Wildlife fencing needed."
John Gleason, a public information officer with UDOT, said the move comes in response to the concerns raised by residents.
"Several UDOT leaders have met with representatives from Save People Save Wildlife over the last few months and they have asked us if there is something we can do here in the short term," Gleason said. "We were able to identify about $50,000 in contingency funds that we can use to install fencing this season."
In 2010 and 2011, UDOT installed 12 miles of wildlife fencing in Parleys Canyon between mile markers 133.6 and 143. An additional 15 miles of fencing was also installed near Silver Creek over the last two years.
"We've located an area where we think we can make an immediate difference and improve safety in the area of Parley's Summit for drivers and wildlife," Gleason said. "We are hopeful that we can begin working on the fence over the next few weeks before winter weather moves in.
"We are working against mother nature here as far as time is concerned, but we do want to get going as quickly as we can while working with DWR (Division of Wildlife Resources) to make sure that we are putting the fencing in the area that it needs to be."
This year, UDOT was approved for $5 million for mitigation along Interstate 80 by the Utah Transportation Commission. However, the money is tied to a passing-lane project that is scheduled for 2018. The money won't be available until October of 2017.
"We really do believe that this is a smaller scale solution and it's not going to solve all the issues that next year's project will address," Gleason said. "But it will let us immediately improve safety and that is what we wanted to ensure. We wanted to make sure we are not wasting taxpayers' dollars on something that is going to be outdated in another year."
UDOT is still exploring what the wildlife mitigation plan will entail, Gleason said, adding that could include a wildlife crossing overpass or underpass.
After Cantwell was notified of UDOT's intentions to install the fencing, she said she immediately began fundraising to help support the project. As of Friday morning, approximately $12,000 had been donated.
"We have to fundraise if we want to have the fencing now," Cantwell said. "We have millions of people passing through that vulnerable stretch of highway daily and we need as much of it as we can get."
UDOT plans to start constructing the fence immediately regardless of the funds that Save People Save Wildlife can contribute. However, Gleason said any contributions will make a difference in the amount of fencing that can be put in place.
"This has been an excellent example of a public/private partnership working out and it has been a great opportunity to work with people who are so invested and passionate about this," Gleason said. "We share the same goals and want to work together to make a difference."