Officials try to reduce number of deer-car crashes along Sardine Canyon highway

Dec 23 2009 - 7:51am

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Workers repair a deer fence in Sardine Canyon. (Courtesy photo)
Workers repair a deer fence in Sardine Canyon. (Courtesy photo)

MANTUA -- Workers made badly needed repairs on fences Monday along U.S. 89/91 in an attempt to reduce the number of deer-car crashes that have plagued Sardine Canyon drivers in recent weeks.

The Utah Highway Patrol reports two or three daily collisions with deer in the area. Five crashes were reported last week, and although none of the wrecks injured any motorists, the collisions caused thousands of dollars in vehicle damage.

Besides the crashes, troopers responded to 10 other incidents involving deer Dec. 14 to 19 along the highway between mile markers 7 and 10.

Some motorists called to report spotting several deer along the stretch, after which troopers were called out to help disperse the animals, or authorities were dispatched to the area to move a dead or injured deer.

UHP spokesman Lt. Lee Perry said the incidents arose after a storm that dumped a large amount of snow on the weekend of Dec. 12, forcing the animals to move to lower elevations.

Wildlife officials say deer at this time of year may still be migrating from their summer range to their winter range.

Some highways have been built where a deer winter range once existed, including the stretch through Sardine Canyon. In the winter, the animals come down looking for food and to lick salt off the pavement.

"That area has been an area of concern for us," said Phil Douglass, a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation outreach manager.

Police file nearly 2,200 deer-vehicle accident reports each year, and those are only crashes that involve more than $1,000 damage to the vehicles, according to information from Douglass.

Douglass said the division has worked with the Utah Department of Transportation to reduce incidents of deer-involved car crashes along that portion of U.S. 89/91 for some time.

Two wildlife officials and two UDOT workers also helped repair the fences on Monday. Ten workers divided into two groups to find and fix holes along the three-mile stretch. The barbwire fences are 10 feet tall, but the deer dig and slip underneath, Perry said.

Officials also are asking residents in the area to help curb the problem, and UDOT sent a letter to area landowners in September urging them to keep their gates locked as much as possible.

Cooperation from residents, as well as having sturdy fences along the stretch, is what will work best for now to keep deer off the highway. However, UDOT may also seek funding to install cattle guards along the stretch to add an additional barrier.

The number of vehicle- deer collisions could drop as winter moves along, and the repaired holes also will prevent some deer from reaching the highway.

Still, officials can't prevent all wildlife from migrating toward the highway. Motorists must be cautious while driving through that area, as deer sightings will surely continue.

Perry said it's a problem with no easy answer.

"You see a herd of 30 deer on the side of the roadway, you don't want to shoot them all," he said.

"You don't want them to get hit by cars, either."

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