Mile of wildlife fencing added along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch
Ralph Hottinger has lived in Hidden Cove for more than 50 years, a relocation inspired in part by the Park City area’s nature and wildlife.
But as the years went on and traffic increased on nearby Interstate 80, Hottinger said he’d see more and more accidents between vehicles and animals. It got so bad that animals started to avoid the area, he said.
After a wildlife overpass and wildlife fencing was installed in the area, Hottinger said the animals are coming back and vehicle strikes are declining.
He’s the president of a group called Save People Save Wildlife that advocated for those measures and has been raising funds to install more wildlife fencing along the corridor.
Last week, installation finished on the latest mile of fencing, which is near the Jeremy Ranch roundabout project. Fencing now extends a half-mile east of Jeremy Ranch on the north side of the interstate and a little farther on the south side, near the Ecker Hill park-and-ride.
The group’s vice president, Lorelei Combs, said the plan is to extend the fencing eastward to the U.S. 40/Interstate 80 interchange near Silver Creek.
“Wildlife fencing starts where Home Depot is on U.S. 40 and goes to Heber,” Combs said. “It’s about a 9-mile gap we’re trying to eventually close up.”
The group’s short-term goal is to extend fencing eastward to Kimball Junction, which would take about 3.5 miles of fencing, Combs said.
She said Summit Park is essentially the gateway coming into Park City, and animals follow the existing fence line looking for a place to cross the interstate.
“If that fenceline is not completely closed, they cross, (and) there’s an onslaught of vehicle collisions,” she said. “It’s a natural migration path.”
S.R. 224 is another common area for animal collisions, Combs said, shown to be one of the worst in the state in an upcoming report commissioned by the Utah Department of Transportation. The group is advocating for a wildlife bridge across S.R. 224 that she estimated would cost around $10 million.
“We believe it has to happen,” she said. “There needs to be something done — animals are going to die, it could cause a fatality.”
She said an elk herd crosses S.R. 224 to reach its winter grounds, resulting in dicey situations nearly every day in certain periods.
“Ever year, it’s an onslaught of dead elk,” she said.
One mile of fencing costs around $85,000, but Combs pointed to a 2008 University of Utah study commissioned by UDOT that estimated each wildlife/vehicle accident that results in a human fatality costs $5.4 million in vehicle damages and personal injury costs.
She said Save People Save Wildlife has a cost-sharing relationship with UDOT for wildlife fencing where the agency will pitch in half the project costs if it has enough left over at the end of the year in its contingency fund. But the state has no dedicated funding for wildlife fencing, Combs said, and UDOT is only able to include the cost in certain projects.
Save People Save Wildlife has been able to raise $42,000 for its half of the project costs for the latest fencing along Interstate 80 and is continuing to raise funds.
The group’s representatives have attended Summit County Council meetings a few times in recent weeks to request funding for the project.
While councilors did not commit to an ongoing budget item, wildlife fencing and cattle guards were included in the Jeremy Ranch roundabout project, public works director Derrick Radke told the council in early November. UDOT paid for the cattle guards on the westbound on-ramp while Summit County paid for those on the eastbound on-ramp.
The group is advocating for Park City and Summit County elected officials to take action.
“At the rate we’re going right now, (with UDOT matching funds), it would take us 20 years to close that gap,” Combs said. “Without the help of Summit County, it’s going to take a long time.”
The county also paid for about a half-mile of fencing near the Ecker Hill park-and-ride.