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More Wildlife Fencing To Be Built Along I-80

UDOT PIO John Gleason

The Park City Nonprofit Save People Save Wildlife announced a new contract with the Utah Department of Transportation to add another mile of wildlife fencing along the I-80 corridor between Parleys Summit and Kimball Junction.

Save People Save Wildlife Public Relations Representative Gabby Saunders told KPCW the organization is again partnering with UDOT to extend fencing for an additional mile along I-80.

Since its inception in 2015, SPSW has worked with UDOT to reduce vehicle wildlife accidents in the Park City area.

Saunders said Summit County’s $50 million open space initiative, which voters will consider in the November election, could provide more funds to help move the project along.

"There will be money earmarked for open space, conservation easements and the construction of recreational amenities, and environmental and wildlife mitigation measures. So that's one of those opportunities if that were to pass through on the ballot, that we can work with the Summit County Council to get that earmarked to speed along the process of doing the wildlife fencing."

Founding member Erin Ferguson says SPSW began in response to a disturbing amount of roadkill from large animals crossing I-80. The group reached out to the Utah Department of Transportation, the Governor's office, and the community, beginning the process of raising awareness of the costs of vehicle-wildlife collisions.

"Once the jersey barricades were installed by the Weilenmann School up towards Parleys Summit on the east side of I-80, it just became a gauntlet of death. And so, we lost 12 moose in 10 days, and finally, we said enough is enough. We've got to take a stand, and so here we are. We have our first mile of fencing went in in 2016. And then it's just evolved from there a mile at a time. And, of course, the overpass in 2018. So, what we need to do is finish closing these gaps because the animals walk the fencing, get to where it is not wildlife fencing, and just get on the freeway, and then, you know the consequences of that."

She said the fencing alone costs about $100,000 per mile. The goal is to fence from Parleys Summit to Silver Creek Junction, where it meets US 40. 
Ferguson said there are three components needed to prevent collisions with wildlife.

"It will effectively be eight-plus miles of fencing because you have to do both sides of the freeway, right?  And then cattle guards at appropriate on and off-ramps so that animals can’t access the freeway via those--also provide alternatives for safe crossings. You can do underpasses and overpasses. But something needs to be provided for them, so we're not isolating these animals with fencing. So, the three components have to be in place for it to be effective. Otherwise, the fencing alone won't work. Cattle guards alone won't work. And an overpass alone won't work because they're not guided to the safe crossing. They'll just cross where they’re used to crossing."

Utah Department of Transportation Region 2 Director Robert Stewart said UDOT shares the same goal to reduce wildlife hits on roads and highways. He said UDOT doesn't have a budget earmarked to pay for efforts to mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions.

SPSW President Ralph Hottinger presented Stewart with a check for $21,000 and a promise to deliver another $21,000 in the coming weeks. UDOT will handle fence construction.

"There's been a lot of pressure on wildlife, through different facets, a lot of development in different areas have shifted migratory patterns, and we as UDOT are trying to keep up with those pressures, but obviously, we've got financial constraints. So, the community's willingness to really step up and not just ask us to install the wildlife fencing, but also put some money where their mouth is. That means a lot to us, right? It shows us great, great awareness and great willingness of that community."

The fencing work will begin this month with a completion target of late October. The fencing will run approximately four miles on both sides of I-80 from the Parleys Summit area to the Jeremy Ranch exit.

If the open space bond passes, SPSW will ask Summit County for additional financial support for wildlife mitigation, which could include fencing, cattle guards, ramps, tunnels, and bridges.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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