Patty Cramer will ask ‘Why Did the Moose Cross the Road?’
Researcher will give presentation at EcoCenter
March 17, 2017
"A deer in the headlights" is not a cliche in Utah, because a major driving hazard in the Beehive State is wildlife.
There were 2,931 reported animal and automobile collisions on Utah roads in 2014, according to a report compiled by the Utah Department of Public Safety, Utah High Way Safety and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
More than, 2,400 of those incidents involved hitting a wild animal.
On Feb. 6, a one-mile stretch of east and westbound Interstate 80 lanes were closed at Lambs Canyon so Department of Wildlife resources could herd a dozen elk and a cow moose to escape routes across the freeway.
While there are many other incidents that go unreported, the Utah Department of
Transportation is doing something about it.
It has contracted ecologist and researcher Patty Cramer to study wildlife and highway crossings in Utah for more than a decade.
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The public is invited to hear Cramer's findings when Cramer presents "Why Did the Moose Cross the Road? Making Highway Crossings Safer for All," presented by the Wasatch Back chapter of the Sierra Club, from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at the Swaner EcoCenter.
Cramer began working with UDOT to examine effectiveness, design and locations for wildlife crossings, said Marion Klaus, of the Wasatch Back chapter of the Sierra Club.
"Patty has been documenting her results, which I found interesting, and I believe we'll see some of them during her presentation," Klaus said. "She has a number of motion-sensor cameras set up around the state, and tries to figure out where to put the crossings."
Cramer also finds if the wildlife use these crossings and if the crossings work within the animals' migration behaviors.
In 2015, she was named the Utah Department of Transportation's 2015 Trailblazer of the Year for her work.
"I've helped her gather information at Lambs Canyon and the Echo Reservoir area to monitor the effectiveness of underpasses that the wildlife use to cross the highways," Klaus said. "The goal of these crossings is to reduce traffic incidents and steer the animals away from residential areas. It's not a good thing to hit a moose."
Assisting Cramer has been eye-opening for Klaus.
"I found it interesting that the animals have to be funneled down and encouraged to find the crossings," she said. "Once they do, though, most learn quickly, although there are some that have problems.
"Since I'm originally from Wyoming, I know that pronghorn antelope don't like crossing in underpasses, but a biologist figured out if they installed mirrors at either side of the crossings, the antelope would look and see another pronghorn and feel it is OK to cross."
Klaus has known Cramer since college.
"I met patty when we both were in graduate school at Montana State University," she said. "I was working on my Ph.D. in ecological genetics and she was working on her masters at that time."
Cramer then moved to Florida and received her Ph.D., studying wildlife crossings and moved back to Utah to work with UDOT.
Klaus felt Cramer's research would make a great presentation.
"In general, we try to present environmental-based programs that have community interest," Klaus said. "For example, we have been doing monthly socials. Our last one was at Molly Blooms and we had Wendy Fisher talked about raising money to preserve Bonanza Flats."
Last year, the Wasatch Back chapter of the Sierra Club participated in the Live PC Give PC day-long fundraiser, said Klaus, who is the volunteer co-lead for the nonprofit's Our Wild America Campaign.
"Some of the money we raised is helping bring Patty to Park City," Klaus said.
While the crossings do help, Klaus said the situation of animals being struck by automobiles isn't going away anytime soon.
"As for the wildlife finding its way into residential areas, it's not their fault," she said. "We have actually moved into their habitat. We are the ones who are encroaching on their property, and that's something we have to consider when we build our subdivisions.
"You can build them on a small footprint that leaves a lot of open space for the animals to use, or you can sprawl out, which leaves the possibility of the animals coming closer to people."
Still, Klaus sees the benefits of living close to wildlife.
"For me, to know there is wildlife and to occasionally see animals increases the pleasure of living here," she said. "I know people love seeing animals. So we have to make sure that we try to help them stay healthy and cross roads without causing damage to others and themselves."
Ecologist and researcher Patty Cramer, who has been commissioned by the Utah Department of Transportation to study wildlife and highway crossings in Utah, will give a presentation called "Why Did the Moose Cross the Road" from 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 22, at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Drive at Kimball Junction.
The event is $5 for the general public and free for Swaner EcoCenter members. For information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.
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