Residents concerned I80 barrier harming wildlife
When Margie Dicus and her husband, Henry, first noticed a large concrete barrier being constructed along the eastbound lanes of Interstate 80 near Summit Park, they immediately became concerned about the impact it would have on the area’s wildlife.
The barrier is 42 inches high and runs for nearly two miles along the eastbound lanes of the Interstate near Summit Park. Construction began on Aug. 17 and was completed Sept. 25.
"We knew that the wildlife cross from Jeremy Ranch to Summit Park and we wondered how they were now going to cross," said Dicus, a Summit Park resident. "Then we saw the first casualty after the barrier was built and it seems like they didn’t even think when they built the wall what the animals would do. I think they try to cross and see the barrier and then get hit. I have seen about eight casualties since it went up.
"They have to do something about it," Dicus said. "It is almost their mating season and if the males keep coming down and trying to cross and get hit, there will be less babies next season."
Dicus is one of several residents who have expressed concern about the impacts of the barrier and its correlation with the moose deaths. Others have reached out to UDOT, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and The Park Record.
A Sept. 23 Letter to the Editor suggested installing more ‘Moose Crossing’ signs after the author encountered a bull moose carcass during his commute. The letter gave cynical praise to "the idiots who did their research on the travel patterns of moose that cross the highway between Jeremy Ranch and Summit Park on a daily basis" and referred to Park City as a "paradise lost."
According to John Gleason, UDOT’s public information officer, the Utah Department of Transportation commissioned the project as a safety measure for Millennium Trail users. This portion of the Millennium Trail, which was completed last spring, runs parallel to the Interstate and its proximity prompted the installation of the barrier.
Gleason said he has been made aware of three moose that have been hit in the area within the last few weeks. However, he did not directly attribute the deaths to the barrier.
"Because of the mountainous terrain, Parley’s has always been an area that has quite a bit of active wildlife and we are always looking for ways to reduce the number of animals that are hit on this road, especially in this area," Gleason said. "The concern from a traffic standpoint is if you have wildlife that enter the freeway and vehicles going at high speed those can be very serious, if not fatal crashes, and it is something we will definitely look into."
A UDOT Region 2 meeting was held earlier this week to determine if additional wildlife fencing or crossings would effectively resolve the issue in this area, Gleason said.
Patricia Cramer, an assistant research professor with the University of Utah, said part of the problem is that moose calves are not able to step over the barrier and get stuck in traffic.
"This is the one species that we have that problem of them getting trapped. Mule deer and elk can jump barriers, but not baby moose" Cramer said. "The other thing is I’m not sure if the people who are concerned realize they are part of the problem and we are all guilty. We move into their winter habitat and make our homes where they live and then we drive our cars on roads. They are caught between a rock and a hard place."
One of the ways to reduce the wildlife deaths near major roadways is to install wildlife fencing or wildlife crossings, Cramer said.
"However, the problem is we would have to find funding for UDOT," she said. "But I’ve always believed Park City is a place where stuff can happen, so the residents need to put the pressure on. We have 49 wildlife crossing structures in Utah. Let’s get the 50th in Park City."
Phil Douglass, DWR conservation outreach manager for northern Utah, referred to the situation as "a chronic issue" for Summit County, not only with moose, but all wildlife on the major roadways and interstates.
"We are right in the middle of a wildlife habitat and it is something that always happens," Douglass said. "Preventative measures are being taken, but one of those is one of the things that we get criticism for the most: relocation."
More than a dozen moose have been moved out of Summit County this year, Douglass said. While relocations are not uncommon, Douglass said the number "seems a little high."
"Some people are OK with that, other people are not," Douglass said. "We appreciate the fact that people like the wildlife of the area and we want them to enjoy the wildlife, but they also need to be tolerant of the measures we have to take to manage them. Moving moose out of the area and away from roadways is the most practical thing that can be done at this stage."
DWR is working closely with UDOT and private citizen groups on these issues about how to effectively prevent wildlife deaths near roadways, Douglass said. A meeting focused on the issue will take place within the next couple of weeks.
"We have done some things lower down in the canyon and we are basically working our way up Parley’s Canyon. Now the area of emphasis is in Park City," Douglass said. "This is something that is ongoing. We appreciate the fact that people have noticed and have raised some concerns and want to continue to hear from people, especially in areas where there is an immediate public issue."
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A gas leak forced the evacuation of North Summit High School and North Summit Middle School Monday afternoon in Coalville. No injuries were reported.