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Interstate 40 and Elk: When Vehicles and Animals Collide

 

A motorist traveling I-40 in northern Arizona has a chance, especially at night, to hit a thousand pound animal that darts out in front of their vehicle.  Elk, along with other wildlife, cross roads to obtain food, water, shelter, mates, and to migrate between seasonal habitats.  Since both motorists and elk must travel, both are in jeopardy when their paths cross.  The Research Branch of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) is working closely with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to reduce the number of times these paths intersect.

I40 pic 1 I40 pic 2

Background:
Arizona's population has increased more than 26% since the 2000 census.  This population increase, coupled with the fact that I-40 serves as the main artery between southern California and a large portion of the United States, has lead to an increase in the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions.  From 2007 to 2009, more than 190 collisions involving wildlife have occurred on the section of I-40 between Williams and Twin Arrows, Arizona. Elk constitute the majority (74%) of all animals involved in collisions along I-40 and, in some areas, contribute to more than 25% of all accidents compared to the National average of 4.6%.  These collisions result in costly vehicle damage, possible injury or death for the motorist, and most often death for the animal.  In an attempt to increase the safety of I-40 for motorists and wildlife, AGFD has joined forces with the ADOT, FHWA, US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Arizona Elk Society.

I40 pic 3 I40 pic 4

ADOT will be upgrading the Flagstaff section of I-40 (Bellemont to Winona) and has tasked AGFD to locate areas on the interstate that elk tend to cross using a combination of wildlife-vehicle collision data and Global Positioning System (GPS) movement data. Once the AGFD has identified these areas, they will provide ADOT with information regarding the possible placement of wildlife crossing structures and fencing to “funnel” elk to these structures.  When these measures are incorporated into the up-graded I-40, motorists and elk will be able to travel their respective paths safely.  For example, along State Route 260 in central Arizona, similar efforts have realized an 85-96% reduction in elk-vehicle collisions in areas where underpasses and fencing are complete.  Since 2002 more than 15,000 animals, primarily elk, have used the crossing structures along State Route 260 (see: http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/StateRoute_260_Elk_Crosswalk.shtml)

I40 pic 5I40 pic 6

Location:
This research project is taking place along an approximately 50-mile segment of I-40 between Williams and Twin Arrows (see below).

I40 pic 7 I40 Pic 8

Approach:
The Department uses two approaches to determine where elk cross I-40:

  1. Monitor Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions: AGFD, ADOT, and the Department of Public Safety gather data related to the location of road-kills along the I-40 study area.  The data can often be used to identify areas where animals are attempting to cross the interstate.

  2. GPS Movements: During 2009, AGFD has placed GPS collars on approximately 80 elk and will outfit 23 more elk in 2010.  All of these elk use habitat in close proximity to I-40 and their collars will take waypoints every two hours when elk are most active.  The collars will collect these waypoints for two-years.

I40 pic 9I40 Pic 10

The data gathered from these two techniques will allow AGFD to 1) determine where elk are crossing the interstate, and 2) recommend possible locations for crossing structures and “funnel” fencing.  For a video on an identical project along Interstate-17 see the following link: (http://www.viddler.com/explore/azgfd/videos/44/)

Benefits:
The information we gather and analyze from elk along I-40 will result in a better understanding of how these elk are interacting with the interstate.  As a result, we will be able to recommend areas where wildlife crossing structures and fencing can be effective.  The end result will be an interstate that is safer for motorists and wildlife.

I40 pic 11

Related Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/research_elk_I17.shtml.

http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/research_wildlife_interactions_sr64.shtml

http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/StateRoute_260_Elk_Crosswalk.shtml

http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/research_maintain_sheep.shtml

http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/How_did_pronghorn_cross.shtml

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/ecosystems/az.htm

Video Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

http://www.viddler.com/explore/azgfd/videos/44/)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxBIYDKPaoI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCFoaipmIHE&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJA9-5nRUEs&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz4fCk7MZLk

For more information contact:
Jeff Gagnon, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086
E-mail: jeff_gagnon@yahoo.com

Chad Loberger, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85086
E-mail:  cloberger@azgfd.gov

 

 
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