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Health, Science & Environment

As Utah’s population grows, so does its need for wildlife crossings

A deer looks at the road while stuck.
Kate Groetzinger
/
KUER
Over 4,500 deer were killed in vehicle collisions in 2021. Utah wildlife agencies are adding fencing and crossings to busy roads to cut down on the number of crashes.

In 2021, Utah wildlife and transportation agencies installed fencing and fish structures to help migrating animals. It also helped cut down on the number of collisions between drivers and wildlife.

The fencing along roads funnels animals to safe crossing areas. Fish structures are meant to help them move more easily in streams intersected with roads and bridges, according to Matt Howard, natural resource manager with the Utah Department of Transportation.

“Animals that used to be able to travel long distances are really hampered, and so we're trying to eliminate some of those barriers to migration so that they can live in a way that's more what they evolved for and what they were used to historically,” he said.

Faith Heaton Jolley, a spokesperson with the Division of Wildlife Resources, said these projects are part of the state’s wildlife migration initiative, which started in 2017.

Jolley said sometimes there are big infrastructure projects that get a lot of attention because of their visibility on roads. However, helping facilitate safe migration through other means — like underground culverts, fish structures and fencing — are important for Utah animals.

DWR said studies show there’s a 90% reduction in wildlife and car collisions when these types of structures are in place. Jolley said the division is tracking animals and their migration patterns for future projects.

“As Utah continues to grow, these conversations are going to continue to come up that we need to make it so that our wildlife aren't being impacted as we continue to kind of have this urban sprawl across the Wasatch Front,” she said.

Howard said the state is looking to use money from the federal infrastructure bill to continue adding and improving wildlife crossings.

“We have over 60 wildlife crossing statewide, but the majority of them go under roads and are just not as visible,” he said. “I always want to make sure that people know that almost no matter where you live in the state, you're not too far away from a dedicated wildlife crossing.”

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