To the Editor, The Jefferson Star: I am an Island Park resident responding to lame-duck state legislator Karey Hanks’ column of August 22.
I speak for more than 200 local taxpayers who don’t want to see any more dead deer, elk and moose along Highway 20. We come from all walks of life: Some of us live here full time, some of us live here part time, some of us are Republicans, and some of us are Democrats. We all pay our taxes. And we are here to stay, unlike Rep. Hanks, whom the voters voted out in a primary in May. She won’t be representing us in a few short months, and her opinion certainly does not represent us now.
What we want is simple: We want to reduce the number of vehicle-wildlife collisions on Highway 20, for the safety of travelers and the survival of wildlife. We were horrified when five travelers were hospitalized because one driver failed to obey warning signs and react appropriately to vehicles stopped for elk crossing the highway. We were astounded, but so very glad, that a family of four escaped serious personal injury when hitting a bison at the base of Targhee Pass. And, we are saddened by the number of wildlife hit on US 20 each year.
At what point is enough, enough? Is it when a driver swerves to miss a deer and kills somebody in an oncoming vehicle with a family on their vacation of a lifetime in Yellowstone National Park? We want to end these accidents, not only for those of us who live here, but also for the millions of people who use this highway as their gateway to Yellowstone. The best solution to this serious problem is the solution that Idaho Transportation Department has been thinking about for several years– build some crossings (overpasses and underpasses) to keep wildlife off the road.
This is the right solution because it works! Within one year of being finished, the mule deer and pronghorn crossings near Pinedale, Wyoming, had reduced accidents between animals and cars/trucks by 85 percent, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Highway 93 in Montana had the same results. Isn’t what’s good enough for keeping people and wildlife safe on roads in Wyoming and Montana good enough for Highway 20 in Idaho?
And wildlife crossings give us the most bang for the buck. The eight wildlife crossings at Trapper’s Point near Pinedale will pay for themselves, according to an engineer at ITD’s counterpart in Wyoming. “When you are saving $500,000 each year in vehicle crash costs and wildlife mortality costs, the project pays for itself in about 20 years,” Wyoming Department of Transportation District Engineer John Eddins told Pinedale Online in 2012. Wyoming is willing to make a responsible decision for safety and wildlife. Will we?
The engineers at the Idaho Transportation Department are trying to do their job and fulfill their mission toward safety, mobility and economic opportunity. The department is legally bound to make decisions on science and facts. They have looked at the science. What it shows are thousands of animals migrating in and out of Yellowstone National Park including deer, moose, elk, bison, and bears. These animals are not going to change their habits. They’re not going away. What ITD is looking at to keep drivers safe on Highway 20 is simple – some crossings and fencing. And they’re proposing to use national taxpayer funds to pay for it – money that could go away if we don’t use it.
We’re confused by people like Hanks who see these common-sense, effective measures that keep drivers safe in Wyoming and Montana as a monster under the bed for Idaho. We’re also raising an eyebrow at this advisory vote Fremont County recently decided to put on the ballot. We think traffic and wildlife safety should NOT be subject to a limited local popularity contest. But, that train has left the station. The best solution is for voters in Fremont County to step up and tell the world that safe travel and safe wildlife passage are important to them; important enough to vote YES to wildlife crossings on the November 6 advisory vote.