Park City teen petitions Summit County Council for wildlife protections
September 26, 2018
Wildlife supporters are still reeling from the death of a moose and calf that were likely hit by a car last month in Pinebrook, with many saying the animals' suffering could have been minimized if the driver had reported the accident.
Summer Combs, a 16-year-old Park City High School student and intern for the nonprofit Save People Save Wildlife, approached the Summit County Council earlier this month to see if more can be done to help animals that are hit by cars.
Combs petitioned the County Council to create an ordinance that would require drivers to report the collisions to law enforcement.
"It all started with the man who hit the calf and moose and abandoned them," she said. "They sustained injuries and died the next morning after firemen, police and DWR (Division of Wildlife Resources) got involved. I just think if there was an ordinance in place, the animals would not have suffered so much. It was very wrong."
The incident in Pinebrook struck a nerve with Combs. She said she is tired of seeing so much roadkill on her way to school in the morning and is upset at the thought that they suffered in their final moments.
"I just think it is something that people should consider because it is an easy process," she said. "I'm very passionate about wildlife, especially in Park City because we have so much of it."
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Phil Douglass, the state Division of Wildlife Resources outreach manager, said he has always been supportive of people changing driving behaviors, such as reducing speed or altering their routes, to protect wildlife. He applauded Save People Save Wildlife's efforts to bring attention to the situation.
The Utah Traffic Code outlines the responsibilities of drivers involved in an accident that causes more than $1,500 worth of damage. The code defines operator and passenger responsibilities to report accidents to law enforcement in cases of injury or death to persons, property and livestock. But, the code does not address injuries to wildlife.
Lt. Andrew Wright, of the Summit County Sheriff's Office, said people don't always report collisions with wildlife, especially if they are not planning on filing an insurance claim to cover the damages.
Wright said dispatch often receives reports from a third party or someone who witnesses a vehicle hit wildlife. He said the Sheriff's Office responds in those cases and notifies the Division of Wildlife Resources. Oftentimes the only option is to put the animal down, he said.
"It's just a matter of educating the community on what they should do if they get in a crash involving wildlife," he said.
County Council Chair Kim Carson said Council members asked staff to look into the legalities of Combs' request. She said even if the county could pass something that requires drivers to report collisions, that doesn't necessarily mean they will.
County Attorney Margaret Olson said she recommended Combs and members of Save People Save Wildlife reach out to the area's state representatives. She said while the county could enact an ordinance to address vehicle/wildlife collisions, it would be difficult to enforce if no other counties have similar requirements.
"My suggestion after they came to Council was to address this at the state level," she said. "The code does not address responsibilities when there is injury to wildlife. In my estimation, this is a deficit that should be addressed by the state Legislature."
Combs said she plans to follow up with the County Council through a letter, but did not mention immediate plans to contact legislators.
"I just don't know who wouldn't want to help the wildlife," she said.