One of the positive outcomes of the federal stimulus money was the building of the wildlife fencing on I-80 in the East Canyon/Lambs Canyon section as a means of keeping the deer, elk and moose from meeting the bumper of an oncoming car or truck.
However, as noted in the Aug. 13 Tribune ("Parleys Canyon fence reduces roadkill, but animals now use the onramps"), while total roadkill has been reduced, the uncooperative ungulates are not utilizing the underpasses under the highway as requested but are instead wandering up the onramps and into vehicle traffic.
It is not a surprise that most wildlife eschew the underpasses. Natural selection has taught them that predators like to strike from above, and the last thing a deer wants to do is enter a cave-like structure where it could get hemmed in or jumped on.
Wildlife experts know that the best way to get animals across a freeway like this is to make them go over the road, not under it. A number of western states and provinces in Canada have constructed overpasses for wildlife, including one built in 1975 over I-15 just outside of Beaver, Utah. These overpasses, tied into appropriate fencing, are effective at keeping the animals off the road, allowing them to follow natural migration corridors.
For years, a group of cycling enthusiasts has been pressing for a Salt Lake City-to-Park City bicycle path. The critical missing link in this trail is a freeway crossing from the Summit area on the south side of the freeway to the Mountain Dell/Emigration corridor on the north. A feasibility study paid for by Salt Lake and Summit counties has been done (but not released) and apparently includes a suggested narrow overpass similar to those pedestrian bridges used for the Pratt trail at the mouth of Parleys Canyon.
This would be the perfect time and place to solve two problems at once by building a wide freeway overpass that would have a wildlife crossing corridor on one side (dirt, grass, and small shrubs) and an asphalt track on the other for cyclists and walkers. The two uses would be completely compatible since most animals would use the overpass at night (which has been documented by motion activated cameras), a time most cyclists and walkers are home in bed.
Funding for such a bridge could be obtained from a wide variety of private, local, state and federal sources since this project would involve both wildlife (and motorist) protection as well as providing trail access for hikers and cyclists.
But to get this done we need an official(s) in the governor's office or the Utah Department of Transportation, or Department of Wildlife Resources, or the Legislature, or Salt Lake County, or Summit County (or all of the above) with the vision to get the ball rolling. Anybody out there?
John H. Weis is a professor of pathology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.