Arizona Game and FIsh Department - Managing Today for Wildlife Tomorrow: Arizona Game and Fish Department

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Wildlife Interactions Along State Route 64

Most of us have had a close encounter with wildlife on Arizona’s highways.  Wildlife must cross roads to obtain food and water, find mates, and to move to seasonal habitats.  This poses potential problems not only for wildlife, but motorists as well.  Game and Fish research helps to make wildlife crossings safer for both animals and motorists.

SR64 pic 1

Collisions with wildlife by motorists are an increasing problem throughout Arizona.  Costly vehicle damage, injury, or even death can occur when a motorist hits an animal.  This is even more of a problem due to higher traffic volumes along many Arizona highways.  Many roads around Arizona will be up-graded to accommodate this increased traffic volume from Arizona’s expanding population.  State Route 64 will be one of those highways that will be up-graded.  To make this highway safer for motorists and wildlife, the Department has teamed up with Arizona’s Department of Transportation.

Elk and deer are the two species that motorists hit most often on State Route 64.  They account for 95% of all wildlife vehicle collisions on this highway.  The Arizona Department of Transportation has asked the Game and Fish Department to find out where animal corridors exist along the highway that deer and elk use to cross.  With this data, the Department can recommend where fencing and wildlife crossing structures should be placed along the up-graded highway.

The department is also researching how the highway affects species that don’t cause much in the way of wildlife/vehicle collisions.  Populations of pronghorn antelope have been declining in Arizona for decades.  Past research has shown that pronghorn rarely cross busy highways.  Many pronghorn populations are isolated by roads and fencing, which can lead to inbreeding.  Department personnel are researching if this effect is happening to pronghorn populations along State Route 64 and what recommendations they can make for populations to cross the highway safely and breed with populations on the other side of the road.

This research project is being conducted along State Route 64 from the entrance of the South Rim on the Grand Canyon, south to Interstate 40.                                                                                                                                                     SR64 pic 2

There are three approaches that AGFD uses to determine where animal corridors are along State Route 64.

  1. Monitoring Wildlife/Vehicle Collisions:  Department personnel work with many other agencies around the state in monitoring road kill data along the highway.  High road kill “hot spots” can be used to figure out where animals are likely to cross the highway.
  2. Monitoring existing crossing structures:  There already exists a crossing structure at Cataract Canyon Bridge.  AGFD have installed cameras at the structure to monitor how often this structure is used and by what species.
  3. GPS movements:  AGFD have actively outfitted 25 elk, 15 pronghorn, and 9 mule deer with GPS collars.  These collars take a waypoint on that particular animal every few hours for a couple of years.

With all of this data, AGFD personnel can locate where animal corridors exist along the highway as figure 1 illustrates.  This data will also help in recommending what kind of crossing structures should be built to benefit each individual species.  All of these recommendations will be given to the Arizona Department of Transportation for the future up-grade of State Route 64.

new pic 1

Figure 1:  Map showing deer outfitted in Tusayan with GPS collars that show a movement corridor to Flagstaff.  Colors represent individual deer, dots represent individual GPS locations, and lines connecting dots depict time sequence of locations.

The information we gain from these animals will result in a better understanding of wildlife-highway relationships.  By monitoring man-made crossing structures that are already built along the highway, we gain an understanding on what kinds of crossing structure designs work for many wildlife species.  The effective placement of species friendly crossing structures will enable isolated animal populations to breed with other populations across the highway.  All the information we gather from these animals helps us recommend effective placement of future wildlife crossing structures, which will make the highway safer for wildlife and motorists.

SR64 pic 3

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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