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Elk Along Interstate 17: A Closer Look at Elk-highway Relationships

As we all know, it is inevitable that we will run across a deer or an elk while driving along one of Arizona’s highways. Hitting a wild animal, especially an elk, poses many hazards to motorists.

I17 pic 1

Substantial vehicle damage, injury, or even death can happen to any motorist when they hit an elk.  Game and Fish personnel are aiming to make highways safer for both motorists and wildlife with their research along Interstate 17.

Collisions with wildlife by motorists are an increasing problem throughout Arizona.  Wildlife must cross roads to get to resources they need.  New roads are constantly being built, along with upgrading existing roads, increases the possibility of a motorist hitting wildlife.  To try to prevent these interactions, the Department has teamed up with the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Motorists hitting elk along Interstate 17 are the most damaging of all the wildlife that cross the highway.  Nearly 75% of wildlife killed along the Interstate were elk.  With Arizona’s increasing population and traffic volume on the highway, the Arizona Department of Transportation realizes that Interstate 17 will eventually need to be up-graded.  To minimize elk/motorist collisions they asked the Game and Fish Department to study where corridors exist along the highway that elk use to cross.  With this data, Game and Fish personnel can recommend where fencing and wildlife crossing structures should be placed along the up-graded highway.     

This research project is being conducted along Interstate 17, over a 30-mile stretch from Flagstaff; south to the Stoneman Lake exit.

There are two approaches we use to figure out the corridors elk use to cross the Interstate.  First, AGFD, along with many other state agencies, collect road kill data along the highway.  Collision “hotspots” point to where elk have crossed the highway and where corridors may exist.

The second approach is to look at where and how often live elk cross the highway.  We must capture elk along the highway to get this data.  Department personnel capture elk using baited Clover traps. 

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Elk are then subdued and instrumented with a GPS collar.  This collar collects a waypoint on the animal every few hours.  These collars will continue to collect animal movements every day for more than two years.  To date, 79 elk along Interstate 17 have been outfitted with these GPS collars.  This data will then be analyzed with the road kill data to find out where the major elk corridors are along Interstate 17.  Then Department personnel can make recommendations to the Arizona Department of Transportation on where fencing and wildlife underpasses should be built along the up-graded highway.  Click onto the following link to view a video of the elk capturing process.

The information we gain from these animals will result in a better understanding of elk-highway relationships.  Effective placement of wildlife crossing structures along the interstate is critical.  All the information we gather from these animals helps us recommend where wildlife crossing structures should be built, which will make the interstate safer for elk and motorists.

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Related Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

Video Links - Wildlife - Highway Projects in Arizona:

For more information contact:

Jeff Gagnon, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85023

Rob Nelson, Arizona Game and Fish Department
5000 W. Carefree Highway, Phoenix, AZ 85023

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