LOGAN -- If Utah drivers take the high road and wildlife takes the low "road," everyone gets home safely.
Patty Cramer helps design underpasses and overpasses that help prevent collisions between drivers just passing through and the moose, elk, mule deer and smaller animals moving around in their home habitat.
The Utah State University wildland resource research assistant professor determines where underpasses or overpasses are needed based on past collisions and her surveillance footage.
She also researches what features will make the over- and underpasses more attractive to animals.
"I help the Utah Department of Transportation design wildlife crossings, so animals can go under or over the roads and don't get killed," said Cramer, who admits she does a job that most people don't know even exists.
Cramer also has done research for transportation departments in Washington state, Oregon, Montana and Vermont.
Cramer recently advised UDOT on improving a wildlife underpass near Wellsville. She also advised UDOT on the building of a bridge in Echo Junction, in Summit County.
UDOT has built about 25 underpasses and 20 overpasses for wildlife, she said.
"The biggest reason UDOT has wildlife crossings is to keep people safer. Every year, between three and five people in Utah die when they hit animals or swerve to avoid them."
Drivers who survive collisions still have to deal with car repairs and injuries.
UDOT contractors report picking up 2,200 dead deer a year, Cramer said.
A Virginia study found that 10 times more deer collisions occur than are formally reported.
Based on various factors, Cramer estimates more than 20,000 deer are killed by cars in Utah every year, with each incident causing related injuries and car damage to the humans involved.
"We probably kill as many deer with our vehicles, or more, than hunters take every year," Cramer said. "That's why sportsman groups are supporting my work, too. Hunters usually take bucks, but vehicle collisions more often take fawns and does, which are more important to maintaining the deer population."
All wildlife crossings need tall fencing on the sides of the highway to funnel animals into the safe passage area, Cramer said.
When animals resist using underpasses, Cramer can usually spot the problem.
Sometimes, highway workers have placed large, jagged rocks to stabilize the soil around a highway and the wildlife is unable to find safe footing to get through. Removing some rocks solves the problem.
Cramer knows of one tunnel that is underused because it's long, dark and intimidating. She hopes a highway median "skylight" can be installed to provide a little daylight.
Then again, sometimes wildlife underpasses can be too popular.
Cramer got some funny footage from a motion-sensitive camera posted on-site of a moose hunkering down, mid-tunnel, for a nap, and a deer who was too nervous to pass.
The culvert in the Wellsville Mountains, between Brigham City and Logan, is one of her favorites, Cramer said. Built in 1995, the wildlife crossing is well used.
"Lots of moose go through," she said. "It gets more moose than any other culvert in the United States. It's very moosey. It's a meeting place."
The cost can be $500,000 to $1 million for some newer, more complex wildlife overpasses, but costs are usually built into the contractor bid, Cramer said.
"I hope people don't think we are wasting taxpayer money," she said.
"Often, all it takes is enlarging a bridge or culvert so wildlife can get through. We are helping to save the traveling public's lives and, hopefully, wildlife."