Tag Archives: wildlife crossing

DEER NEAR KANAB NEED TO MIGRATE

UDOT is working to improve deer use of the crossings and prevent motorist-wildlife crashes.

Photo of deer using the crossingThe fall migration of the Paunsaugunt mule deer herd reaches its height between October and November as deer move south, and eventually end up east of Kanab or in Arizona near the Kiabab Plateau. This is the second year that migrating deer will encounter new fencing and wildlife crossings on U.S. 89 east of Kanab. Since Utah’s deer hunt coincides with the migration, it’s more likely that people and deer will come into close proximity near a wildlife crossing or along U.S. 89. And when people are near, deer appear to be less likely to learn to use wildlife crossings.

The new fencing is designed to direct deer to the under-highway crossings, but it can take three years or more before most of the animals in the herd learn the crossing options. UDOT is identifying and implementing measures to improve crossings by working with Patricia Cramer, PhD, Utah State University Research Assistant Professor, Arizona Game and Fish, the BLM and the Grand Staircase agencies and employees from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

“We’re very interested to see how it works out this year,” says Randall Taylor from the UDOT Region Four Richfield office. He has been part of an effort to install fencing and three crossings along a 12.5 mile area with the highest wildlife-automobile crash history. “This project does not cover the whole area but it’s an important first step at the core of the accidents.”

Photo of deer using the crossingSoon after project completion in September 2013, Cramer placed motion-activated cameras at each crossing. The photos provide information about how many deer are using the crossings, and identify reasons deer may be deterred.

Photos from last year show more people near the crossings during the deer hunt, and fewer deer making the trek across. Probably because the crossings were new, deer congregated near the fencing along the highway. Road users saw the deer and stopped to take a look. UDOT responded by placing variable message signs to discourage motorists from pulling over.

Other circumstances served to deter deer from following the fencing and using the crossings. Gaps under the fencing encouraged deer to push through on to the pavement. “Flooding was to blame for some of those gaps, and coyotes were the cause of others,” says Taylor. UDOT and UDWR are monitoring the fencing and filling gaps as soon as possible.

Besides doing work on the project corridor, UDWR is communicating directly with hunters; a message about staying away from crossings will go out with each license holder.

The crossings are important to highway safety in the area. Pre-project crash data indicates that building the crossings prevents an estimated 132 crashes per year. “Hopefully, more deer will get across this year. The research Patti Cramer is doing is helping.”

For more:

Read a post about how UDOT collaborates to improve crossings written by Patricia Cramer, PhD, Utah State University

UDOT and Partners Work Together to Protect Paunsaugunt Mule Deer Herd

Photo of mule deer at a crossingEach fall the Paunsaugunt mule deer herd migrates off the Paunsaugunt Plateau near Bryce Canyon, to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and across U.S. 89 to winter habitat in southern Utah and northern Arizona. In spring they return to the Paunsaugunt Plateau. During the migrations mule deer were killed on U.S. 89 in wildlife-vehicle collisions, which also posed a hazard for drivers. Historic data revealed that there was an average of 132 mule deer-vehicle collisions each year along U.S. 89 from Arizona to Kanab. As a result, UDOT and partner agencies came up with a strategy to add wildlife exclusion fencing to U.S. 89 east of Kanab in the migration area to funnel the mule deer and other wildlife to four existing structures, and to create three new constructed wildlife crossing culverts under the highway.

The creation of this wildlife mitigation marks a new era of inter-agency and non-profit partnerships to protect wildlife across roads. UDOT partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife (UDWR) to include multiple partners on this project, including Arizona Game and Fish (AZFGD), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), US Bureau of Land Management Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Kane County, the Mule Deer Foundation (MDF), Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW) and others to come up with the funding and strategies to help mule deer migrate under U.S. 89.

The U.S. 89 Kanab Paunsaugunt Project partners brought together over 2.5 million dollars to install 12 miles of wildlife exclusion fencing and three wildlife culvert underpasses in the center of the stretch. Utah State University became a research partner, installing wildlife monitoring cameras at all structures and fence ends. In 2013 the mitigation was completed, research cameras were installed, and mule deer began moving under U.S. 89 in September.

As the mule deer migration began and camera data came in, it became apparent some mule deer were becoming restricted in their ability to use the structures because of cattle fences and people, and that the agency partnership needed to continue to work together to help make the mitigation most effective.

UDWR and BLM worked together to make small changes to fencing and gates to increases mule deer ability to use the structures, which were partially blocked by traditional cattle allotment boundary fences and gates under the road in the culverts and bridges.

In the fall during the peak of migration, mule deer may have become more skittish toward using the structures in part due to sports people scouting areas and individual animals for the hunt. Human presence combined with the restricted space of culverts and bridges that the mule deer were now expected to move through, the deer congregated near the fencing along the highway. People traveling on the freeway saw the deer and stopped to take a look. UDOT responded by placing variable message signs to discourage motorists from pulling over. UDWR contacted hunters who will be hunting in the area in 2014 with a message asking hunters to stay a distance away from crossing structures.

“We’re very interested to see how it works out this year,” says UDOT Project Manager Randall Taylor. “This project does not cover the whole migration area but it’s an important first step.”

The fall 2013 photographs documented over 3,000 times mule deer used the structures or went around fence ends to migrate south. The 2014 migration is expected to show as many or more passages through these increasingly effective wildlife crossing structures. Continued agency coordination and research will help this herd and other wildlife stay clear of the highway while still accessing critical habitat on both sides of U.S. 89.

Additional information about the project and partnerships can be found in the Western Governors’ Association April 2014 Case Study.

This guest post was written by Patricia Cramer, PhD USU Assistant Research Professor

Under construction: GIS apps to improve safety

The following post is the second of a two-part series about how GIS tools help employees expedite work and refine the quality of information needed to improve the transportation system. Please also see GIS tools at work in UDOT Region Four.

Widespread, enthusiastic uses of spatial data have not always been embraced – mostly because employees didn’t have experience using the data and tools. One of UDOT’s most enthusiastic GIS tool proponents, Pre-Construction Engineer Monte Aldridge, took a pro-active approach and changed the work culture in region four.

Aldridge required his pre-construction team to use the tools and then report back at a monthly team meeting. Pre-construction teams are made up of members with a variety of engineering specialties, including design, environmental, and hydrology. Teams plan and design small and large roadway projects.

The experience was “very beneficial,” says Aldridge. Once the team members investigated the tools then shared their use experience, they were hooked.  “Now it’s something that’s used every day.”

Wildlife Corssing Images

Wildlife fencing works to direct animals safely across roadways. In the top photo, a mule deer buck has just crossed an overpass. In the bottom photo, fencing directs a mule deer herd to a crossing under the roadway.

For example, roadway designers found out right away that using the Linear Bench, a straight line diagram tool, is useful to catalog relevant roadway assets before designing a project. Region Four designers also use smartphones as on-site data-collectors to geo-reference roadway features when visiting a future construction site. Using the tools has prompted ideas for other uses.

Oh deer!

A large animal that gets around wildlife fencing “is an almost guaranteed accident,” says Aldridge. When a wildlife carcass is picked up on a UDOT route, the location, animal type, along with other information is currently geo-referenced with a smart phone app.  A modification to this app will send an email when a carcass is picked up along a road section where wildlife fencing has been installed. The email will alert transportation technicians that a fence may have been breached.

Another app is being developed to accumulate crash hot-spot data. The Utah Highway Patrol investigates highway crashes and turns over information over to UDOT. Information on the location and cause of a crash is not immediate, however. Overcoming that time lag in getting that information can speed up the time it takes to improve safety.

Staff in Region Four is working to identify how to log crash data to exclude private and sensitive information that’s collected as part of UHP’s investigation. Then, the non-sensitive information can help UDOT employees make safety improvements, if needed, more quickly.

HIGH ARCH GETS HIGH PRAISE

Utah wildlife management experts love this new structure under I-70.

 

High arch-crossing gets high marks for safety, and good looks.

Speaking for herself and other wildlife management experts, USU Assistant Professor Patricia Cramer calls this underpass crossing “our pride and joy.”  The new structure looks great and has good functionality as a wildlife crossing too.

Cramer is especially pleased that it’s been used by elk, who are difficult customers when it comes to crossings.  Read about elk using this crossing in a previous post: Appealing to Elk.

Randall Taylor, UDOT Design and Environmental Engineer is happy with the crossing too. He was involved with developing specifications for the high arch structure — the contractor designated the construction method and products used by Contech, a construction products company.

The crossing was built under I-70. Work was staged to allow traffic to be maintained during construction.

Here are some construction photos courtesy of Contech:

Workers place wire mesh that will reinforce concrete footings. The retaining wall on the right was built in five supported lifts.

A crane places a pre-formed concrete arch section on the footings.

Wing walls add structural support and also channel animals into the arch crossing.

According to an I-70 Wildlife Crossing summary of the project produced by Contech, “The CON/SPAN used on our I-70 Wildlife Crossing was great for this application,” said Lyndon Friant, UDOT Resident Engineer.  “It was installed quickly and effectively, allowing for minimal impact to the traveling public…”

APPEALING TO ELK

Crossings protect wildlife and people, too.

 

Elk are usually universal refusers when it comes to underpass crossings. But a few elk have ventured through this wildlife crossing on I-70.

UDOT employees understand that accommodating Utah’s beautiful earth-bound migrating creatures helps keep people safe too. Effective wildlife crossings can reduce the number of auto-wildlife crash incidents on state roads.

Deciding where to place and build structures that work for mule deer, elk, moose and other animals is a studied, multi-step process. UDOT partners with wildlife experts and uses knowledge gained by research in order to plan and build the right crossing at the right location.

This moose is not faked-out by a painted-on cattle guard. Painted crossings are not included in UDOT's standards but some old ones are maintained.

Some common UDOT crossing types include fenced bridges, corrugated pipes, box culverts, underpass structures and even lines painted on the road meant to mimic an actual cattle guard. Fencing around crossing structures is also used to deter animals from using the road.

Fickle Elk

One of the main concerns wildlife experts share is about elk, who typically “refuse to go through anything,”  says USU Associate Professor Dr. Patricia Cramer. A report on research conducted by Cramer in 2008 through 2010 documents some good news.

Cramer posted 35 motion-activated cameras near wildlife crossings in Utah.  Out of 200,000 photos, about 20 images of elk using the crossings were captured at two locations: a pair of bridges near Beaver and a new high-arch underpass on I-70. In a phone interview, Cramer called this new information “very, very significant.”

A mule deer investigates a culvert type crossing before turning away.

Besides documenting elk use, Cramer’s crossing study shows some interesting trends. First,  ungulates rarely use long box culvert crossing structures where exclusion fencing is absent.

Second, the mule deer repellency rate is related to the length of the crossing. Cramer explains the repellancy rate in her study as “the number of observations where mule deer attempted to enter a crossing and have turned around and left, divided by the total number of mule deer observations at the site.”

Mule deer cross a bridge over I-15.

Cramer’s findings underscore the importance of studying all crossing types and features and her data will be used by UDOT to plan and build crossings to accomplish UDOT’s premier goal to improve safety. Her study will be posted on the UDOT website in the the Research Division’s section for Environmental research.

Check back this week to see a post about construction of the high-arch crossing on I-70.

For more information, see:

USU Ecologist Leading Efforts to Stop Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

Wildlife and Roads