Idaho Officials Fret Over Deer Collision Rise

November 28, 2012

Idaho’s wildlife managers are starting to worry about the growing number of collisions involving motorists and deer, elk and moose.

Studies show more than 5,000 of the animals were killed by vehicles on Idaho roadways last year, and that total could be higher since many collisions aren’t reported to law enforcement or insurance companies.

Now, Idaho Fish and Game Department managers say it’s time to ramp up monitoring and wildlife crossing programs.

“Right now, we think we’re losing the same number of deer that we harvest in our biggest deer (hunting) unit every year, so that is significant,” Gregg Servheen, the agency’s wildlife program coordinator, told the Spokesman-Review in a story Monday. “As we try to maintain deer harvest and sportsman interest and opportunity, that becomes key.”

Wildlife crossings, which are showing positive results in other states, might become more commonplace along known animal migration corridors in Idaho.

A new section of U.S. Highway 95 being built north of Coeur d’Alene features a $1 million wildlife underpass, designed to allow deer, elk, moose, bears and other species to cross freely, without endangering themselves or motorists whizzing by on the state’s main north-south route. Extensive fencing will route the animals to the safe crossing.

The underpass, just south of Silverwood, will be the state’s fifth when the highway project is completed next fall.

Another that was built on Highway 21 east of Boise in 2011 has seen large herds of deer crossing safely as car-deer collisions at the site plummeted.

Three were built in the Eastport area in 2004, on Highway 95 in Boundary County, as part of a 16-mile highway realignment project.

The area is a hot spot in the state for vehicle collisions with animals. Nearly 900 animals, most of them white-tailed deer, were hit by cars on Highway 95 from just south of Coeur d’Alene to the Canadian border in 2011, according to Fish and Game data. There also were moose, elk, bears and others.

Fish and Game officials say likely only about 50 percent of road-killed animals are reported, so the numbers could be twice as high as their reports show.

Compared to other states, however, Idaho is slow in adopting the wildlife crossing idea.

Montana, for example, built more than 40 wildlife crossings, including underpasses and one large overpass, on a 56-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93 in 2010. Utah has spent more than $47 million on wildlife crossings since 2005, and Wyoming has spent $20 million since 2001.

“We see a lot of needs,” Servheen said. “Mule deer. are in decline. It’s a very important species here in Idaho, because we have a lot of mule deer hunters. Roadkill, we think, is one of the principal impingements on mule deer populations and mule deer health.”

Idaho Fish and Game over the past several years has created an extensive mapping system highlighting major wildlife crossings on roads statewide, and is coordinating with the Idaho Transportation Department to consider those in future road construction projects.

“Wildlife collisions are a threat to human safety and wildlife survival,” said Jeff Stratten, spokesman for the ITD. “Wildlife tunnels have proven to reduce collisions with both large wildlife, such as deer and elk, and smaller animals such as foxes and raccoons.”

On Saturday, police blamed a deer carcass for a rollover crash on Interstate 84 in Gooding County that sent three Treasure Valley residents to the hospital.

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