Wildlife collisions with vehicles occur frequently in Western states, and they are costly in terms of lives lost—some 5,000 deer and 1,000 elk die each year in Utah, and, more importantly, so do some of the people who hit them. A 2019 study estimated that such accidents cost Utah taxpayers nearly $138 million per year in human injuries and deaths and in damage to vehicles. But wildlife crossings, which are over- and underpasses designed specifically to help animals safely traverse roads, can help alleviate this problem. That’s why Utah approved a $20 million appropriation dedicated to wildlife crossings for 2023; it was the largest dedicated appropriation for wildlife crossings outside of California and will be used to address a collision hot spot near the junction of interstates 80 and 25.
These crossings are often built along traditional animal migration routes, so they also help play a crucial role in maintaining ecological connectivity between natural areas, which can enhance the resilience of wildlife habitat in the face of climate change. Utah built the first wildlife bridge in the U.S. in 1975, located near the town of Beaver on Interstate 15 in 1975, and since then has built more than 50 wildlife crossings.
As Utah lawmakers from both parties gear up for their 2024 legislative session starting in February, The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project and its partners are working with them to build on the success of the 2023 funding in hopes of securing a reoccurring funding commitment, one that would cover multiple years. “Multiyear funding would be another first for Utah and would enhance the state’s ability to build wildlife crossings in an expedited fashion year in and year out,” said Matt Skroch, who directs Pew’s U.S. conservation project. “It would also be another hallmark of the state’s continued leadership on wildlife conservation and driver safety through investments in this vital infrastructure.”