Installation of wildlife fencing considered a ‘first step’
Members of the Summit County nonprofit organization Save People Save Wildlife contend that any step toward reducing the number of wildlife and vehicle collisions is “a good step.”
Last week, the Utah Department of Transportation began installing permanent wildlife fencing along the westbound side of Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch. The fencing will extend for approximately one mile west toward Parleys Canyon. UDOT partnered with Save People Save Wildlife on the project.
“Is it a guaranteed fix? No because it needs to be on both sides, but one mile is better than nothing. Again, it is baby steps, but if we have one section we are still doing a lot better than we were before,” said Lorelei Combs, who lives in the Hidden Cove neighborhood and is a member of the nonprofit organization. “But we were told that they were going to have a double crew working on the installation of the fencing due to the lateness of the season and there was no one there on Tuesday.
“At this point they have only put in a quarter of the posts and if they continue at this rate won’t even get it done before Thanksgiving. They need to pick up the pace,” Combs said.
UDOT and Save People Save Wildlife are equally funding the $100,000 project. The group formed to advocate for the fencing along the interstate, or Slaughter Row,” as members have referred to it. For months, they pressured UDOT to come up with a solution for the collisions claiming that the moose population is beginning to dwindle in the Snyderville Basin and that drivers are at risk.
Last month, members began raising money to contribute to the project. As of Wednesday, approximately $43,000 has been raised.
John Gleason, a public information officer with UDOT, said the fencing is the “initial step in a long-term process, adding it is part of a larger plan to improve safety in that corridor. This year, UDOT was approved for $5 million for wildlife mitigation by the Utah Transportation Commission. However, the money won’t be available until October of 2017.
“Like everyone, we have to work within our budget and if the money doesn’t become available until next year we can’t spend that money until we have it,” Gleason said. “Save People Save Wildlife has really helped us out by being able to contribute funding.”
UDOT officials, with the help of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, considered placing the fence in several different areas along the interstate before determining the section near Jeremy Ranch would “greatly benefit” before the winter months,” Gleason said.
“Anytime you have an area that has such heavy traffic and development and so much wildlife, those type of crashes are something we are going to have to contend with,” Gleason said. “That is really what we have been looking at doing here. We are trying to find what is going to reduce the wildlife and vehicle collisions in this area.”
Gleason said officials have determined the most effective way to mitigate collisions would be to install a wildlife crossing. He said UDOT plans to hire a contractor within the next few weeks to begin designing a permanent structure. The crossing will be funded through the money received from the Utah Transportation Commission.
“We are working together to make a difference and improve safety in Parleys Canyon and it has been determined that we do need a wildlife crossing because fencing may just push the issue up the road and that is something we want to avoid,” Gleason said.
Ralph Hottinger, one of the founding members of Save People Save Wildlife, said while he appreciates what UDOT has done, the area still needs more fencing. He added, however, that he understands the money constraints that may be preventing that.
“It is difficult to go more than a mile. Each mile costs $100,000 and we appreciate UDOT coming up with the $50,000 that they have,” said Hottinger. “We (Save People Save Wildlife) are really trying to get more than $50,000 and I’m hopeful that sometime next summer they can finish the rest of the fencing to connect to the other that has already been installed.”
The installation of the fencing is expected to take approximately three weeks.
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.