Protestors target UDOT about Wildlife Slaughter Row
Save People Save Wildlife, a Summit County nonprofit organization, claims the Utah Department of Transportation is withholding $5 million it was recently granted in federal funding that is specifically earmarked for wildlife mitigation along Interstate 80.
For the last several months, the group has been pressuring UDOT to install wildlife fencing along Interstate 80 west of Kimball Junction with claims that the moose population is beginning to dwindle in those areas and that drivers are at risk. The group was created earlier this year as a grassroots organization advocating 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.” The sign faced east and westbound traffic for nearly 20 hours on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
“They are withholding the money for no reason,” said Lorelei Combs, one of the protestors and members of the organization. “We should not have to be subject to any more conflicts between cars and moose. There is this nine-mile stretch that they refuse to put fencing up along when they had a conclusive study that said it is a designated hot spot for wildlife.”
“We had a lot of support from people driving by,” Combs said. “People are happy that we are starting to stand up and say this is a senseless waste of our wildlife and is putting people’s lives at risk.”
Combs, who lives in the Hidden Cove neighborhood, said she has lived in Summit County since 1987 and is tired of the volume of traffic coming into Park City. Combs said the wildlife population in her neighborhood has been drastically reduced by vehicle collisions and relocations, adding that “we are devastated by it.”
“The only angle UDOT listens to is human life. They don’t care about the wildlife, but we live here because of the wildlife,” Combs said. “We probably have 100 photos of a mother and baby (moose) and we have become so protective because we know if that mother and that baby get on I-80 that’s it. Our population is gone over here and we feel like we want to protect the only wildlife we have left.”
John Gleason, a public information officer with UDOT, said he was aware of the protestors, adding that “it’s a very emotional issue and we understand that they are very passionate.” Gleason said it is a concern that UDOT shares.
“No one wants to see animals being killed and no one wants to see people injured in these kinds of crashes,” Gleason said. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a surefire solution that will keep all of the animals off the road 100 percent of the time. As you have growing populations in these areas that are traditionally occupied by wildlife it becomes more prevalent and these are the issues we need to be aware of, and actively and proactively addressing and that’s what we have been doing.”
UDOT has been working to prevent wildlife collisions for more than a decade, Gleason said. In 2010 and 2011, UDOT installed 12 miles of wildlife fencing in Parley’s Canyon between mile markers 133.6 and 143, he said, adding that 15 miles of fencing was also installed near Silver Creek over the last two years.
Gleason acknowledged that $5 million was recently approved for mitigation along Interstate 80, however, he said it is tied to a passing-lane project that is scheduled for 2018. UDOT does not currently have any plans to install fencing in the portion along I-80. Gleason said UDOT is working with Summit County and the Division of Wildlife Resources while still studying the options and is hopeful “in the next little while we should have some answers.”
“We want to make sure that whatever solutions we put forward are the best, most strategic method to preventing these types of wildlife and vehicle crashes,” Gleason said. “It’s a lot of money, but it may not be enough to address that entire corridor up there. That’s what the feasibility study is doing right now: looking. It is looking to see what is feasible and what makes the most sense.”
Combs said members of the organization are not satisfied with UDOT’s timeline. She said “it is unacceptable and we are just going to get louder and bigger and protest more.”
Five more banners similar to the one displayed over the holiday weekend are being created, Combs said. Members plan to protest during Pioneer Day, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival and Labor Day weekend.
“I keep reading in the paper how the state is getting so much from tourism from here, but yet they are not ready to reinvest in the city,” Combs said. “The first morning on the Fourth of July weekend there were three dead deer near the entrance to Park City. It’s like, ‘do you really want your tourists to come in and see all this slaughter on the road?’
“We are demanding that we have this wildlife fencing, at the very least, in between Summit Park and Park City before that big project in 2018,” Combs said. “We just hope they say, ‘we get your message and we will give you your fencing,’ otherwise we will continue to do it.”
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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.