Cameras at Parleys Canyon wildlife overpass show plenty of animal traffic
The Parleys Canyon wildlife overpass turns five years old this year. While an efficacy study is ongoing, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Division of Wildlife Resources call it a huge success.
The Parleys Canyon wildlife overpass went viral in 2020 when footage from the bridge was viewed over 3 million times. That video highlights just some of the animals that crossed in front of the cameras including moose, bobcats, bears, porcupines, mule deer, and coyotes.
The $5 million wildlife overpass was designed to reduce animal and vehicle collisions by helping wildlife safely migrate across the highway. And according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), it’s doing just that. Blair Stringham, DWR’s wildlife migration initiative coordinator said since the bridge was built, there has been a 75-80% reduction in vehicle collisions in that area.
DWR, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), and Utah State University monitor the wildlife overpass. In fact, USU is responsible for overseeing a five-year study of the bridge’s efficacy.
Currently, there are two sets of cameras on the overpass: those that belong to UDOT and will remain on the bridge, and those that belong to USU to track animal crossings. Matt Howard, natural resource manager with UDOT, works closely with DWR and USU and said early reports show the overpass is a big hit with wildlife.
“We get a quarterly report. And each time that success rate has been hovering around 80%,” said Howard. “So 80% of the animals that approach it, end up crossing it. And some of those animals are just walking past the cameras, and that still counts as a rejection even if they weren't assessing it. But that does put us in the higher category of success compared to other crossings statewide.”
According to the most recent report from May of 2022, Howard said there have been 7,606 detections across the six cameras. That’s a minimum of 1,267 animals, since the agencies figure some of those are the same animals being counted multiple times.
The USU study wraps up in November. Howard said a five-year study is all that’s required to determine whether the bridge is a success.
“We found that once we hit four to five years worth of data, it kind of plateaus and so we don't see that continued increase that we get in the early years as animals are finding it,” said Howard. “We've already met where multiple generations of animals have used it and are teaching their young to use it. And so at that point, we feel like we have a pretty confident idea of how well the crossing is working.”
UDOT will use this information to lobby for more legislative dollars for wildlife overpass and underpass projects as well as wildlife fencing. There are just two wildlife overpasses and 50 underpasses statewide.
Howard said a UDOT wish list is before the Utah State Legislature, and it depends on matching federal dollars. But even without federal grant money, he said UDOT has a few fencing and crossing projects underway including one in Morgan County and another at the Echo Junction between I-80 and I-84.