FHWA has given UDOT and partner agencies an award for successful wildlife mitigation efforts on U.S. Highway 6.
A diverse team of experts from federal and state government joined forces in 2005 to find better ways to help wildlife get across US Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Price, Utah. Members from the Wildlife Coordinating Committee, drawing from FHWA, UDOT, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Bureau of Land Management, Uinta National Forest Service, and Utah State University, collaborate to identify high wildlife-vehicle collision spots and make recommendations for improvements.
“Their efforts are showing measurable success,” says Brandon Weston, UDOT Environmental Manager and chairman of the committee. FHWA has recognized that success with a Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative Award.
The committee has been successful by studying wildlife habitats, building cross-agency partnerships and using innovative solutions backed by the best science available, according to Rebecka Stromness, past UDOT Environmental Manager. Stromness wrote the nomination for the award, which points out that many past activities, including construction of the original road and railroad, logging, fur trapping, livestock grazing, agriculture, and urban development, have served to eliminate or degrade wildlife habitat. “With the implementation of mitigation for each specific project, vehicle-wildlife collisions are being reduced and wildlife movement across the highway is gradually being restored.”
Professor Patricia Cramer, a wildlife research assistant professor with Utah State University, is tracking the success of crossings by placing cameras to record images of wildlife. Cramer joined the committee years before research started. Knowing UDOT was planning an ambitious and challenging effort to improve safety on US-6, she saw the potential for the highway to be the “crown jewel of wildlife crossings in Utah.” Her research started with a UTRAC grant and continues with funding from Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Doug Sakaguchi, Habitat Biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, has served on the committee since 2005. The success of the committee in collaborating to reduce the number of wildlife killed is “exciting to me,” says Sakaguchi. His graph (below) shows a reduction in the number of carcasses before and after two bridges were replaced with new bridges that accommodate wildlife movement.
Weston, Cramer and Sakaguchi point to a railroad bridge replacement project at Mile Post 200 as an example of a successful outcome. The old structure, a three-span steel girder bridge, needed to be replaced. The new bridge that accommodates the rail lines limits the ability of wildlife to cross. Through the committee’s efforts, a wildlife crossing was added to the project just west of the new bridge. The new crossing allows over 800 Mule Deer each year to cross under US-6.
The committee provides a model that shows how agencies can work together to improve highway safety and reduce animal-vehicle collisions, explains Weston. The committee’s job with US 6 is nearly complete, but members will continue to meet to discuss research and wildlife mitigation efforts in other parts of the state.
“We are not starting from scratch anymore,” says committee member Ashley Green, UDWR Wildlife Coordinator for Statewide Projects. He is confident that other areas of the state can benefit from cross-agency cooperation even though wildlife crossing areas pose problems that are “difficult, complex and not easy to fix,” he explains. “We have seen some really awesome success.”
In addition to improving wildlife crossings, UDOT has added new bridges, general purpose and passing lanes, concrete barrier, guardrail, centerline and shoulder rumble stripes, warning signs and improved the road alignment on US 6.