Wildlife Escape and Passage

Right of Way Escape Ramp Near Santaquin, UT Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Right of Way Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin, UT
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Safety Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

One-way, Metal Gate Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer One-way, Metal Gate
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Climbing Side, Corner Escape Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Underpass and Jump Ramp Near Santaquin WMA Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Underpass and Jump Ramp
Near Santaquin WMA
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Rural Road Leading to Santaquin Wildlife Management Area Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer Rural Road Leading to Santaquin
Wildlife Management Area
Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer

Deer and other wildlife have been migrating across our state much longer than humans. When people drove horse-drawn wagons and slower vehicles, wildlife could easily pass without a problem. However, with the introduction of fenced highways and their increased speed and traffic, problems quickly arose. In this case, the problem is mostly with mule deer, because they comprise 90% of the animals migrating in Utah. Robert Frost wrote that “Good fences make good neighbors.” But neighbors need to cooperate to maintain a fence, and even with fences in place, what if the neighbors are animals? The problem is how to keep migrating deer from jumping fences and causing accidents.

Animal/vehicle encounters cause over 5,000 animal deaths in Utah each year. Beyond the loss of life, it is also an economic problem, not only for wildlife management but also for vehicle owners. Some estimate the deer are worth more than $2,500 each. Joshua Coursey wrote in the Deseret News, that the “estimated cost of collisions with mule deer in Utah reached close to $50 million in 2021.” That’s why the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) have worked for decades to reduce wildlife/vehicle encounters. As noted, fencing alone does not work; consequently, highway managers have had to find ways to get trapped deer across and away from fenced roads.

When USU researchers studied escape mechanisms in Sardine canyon, they found earthen escape mounds were superior to one-way, metal gates. Climbing a hill is more natural to deer than pushing through a metal gate. These mounds enable a one-way jump to safety. However, escape alone does not solve the driving force of migration.

A more effective way to handle migrating animals is to guide them above or below the road. UDOT explains: “Studies have shown there is a 90% reduction in wildlife/vehicle collisions when there is a crossing structure and fence in the area.” Since 1975, when UDOT built its first wildlife overpass near Beaver, Utah, deer, moose and elk, along with bear and mountain lions have begun to use wildlife underpasses and overpasses. More recently, a larger overpass was built in Parley’s Canyon on I-80. Videos show a variety of animals who successfully traverse that overpass.

But escape ramps and overpasses aren’t the only tools available. Passage is also possible using creek beds or culverts crossing under roads. Tall fences are effective in guiding animals toward structures and preventing roadway access. Then, to encourage faster adoption, contractors have found they can walk a herd of cattle through the structure, overpowering human scents

When on I-15, I-80, I-70, or in our canyons, watch for overpasses, underpasses, one-way gates and exit ramps. They demonstrate a few ways the DWR and UDOT are working together to preserve human and animal lives.

This is Lyle Bingham, and I’m Wild About Utah and our 15 years on Utah Public Radio.

Videos: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources https://wildlife.utah.gov
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Lyle Bingham, Photographer
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

USU-Connected Researchers Mitigating Wildlife Migration Issues:
John Bissonette, Patricia Cramer and Mary Hammer

Bissonette, J. A. and M. Hammer. 2000. Effectiveness or earthen return ramps in reducing big game highway mortality in Utah. UTCFWRU Report Series 2000 (1): 1-29.https://escholarship.org/content/qt2f1080nm/qt2f1080nm.pdf

Buford, Daniel, Cramer, Patricia, and Simpson, Nova, Integrating Wildlife Connectivity and Safety Concerns into Transportation Planning Processes, Federal Highway Administration, US Department of Transportation, Winter 2023, https://highways.dot.gov/public-roads/winter-2023/04

Wildlife Connectivity Institute, https://www.wildlifeconnectivity.org/

“A dynamic part of a National Cooperative Highway Research Program sponsored research project titled; ‘Evaluation of the Use and Effectiveness of Wildlife Crossings.'”, http://www.wildlifeandroads.org/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist [Patricia Cramer] Honored for Wildlife Highway Crossing Research, Utah State Today, Utah State University, April 16, 2015, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-honored-for-wildlife-highway-crossing-research

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, USU Ecologist Leading Efforts to Stop Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions, Utah State Today, Utah State University, September 2, 2010, https://www.usu.edu/today/story/usu-ecologist-leading-efforts-to-stop-wildlife-vehicle-collisions

DWR: “It’s the video seen around the world! This compilation of footage shows various animals using the wildlife crossing constructed in 2018 over Interstate 80 near Parleys Summit. What’s especially notable with this crossing is how many animals are already using it; usually it takes several years for wildlife crossings to become widely used.

This video went viral near the end of 2020, and was celebrated as great progress in the problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Special thanks to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Transportation and Summit County for the footage.” https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/stories/parleys-summit-wildlife-crossing/

UDOT: Baker Canyon Wildlife Crossing Installation

DWR: “Utah’s highways are vital to the health of the state. They can present a significant barrier for wildlife migration. In order to prevent automobile/wildlife collisions and to increase habitat availability for animals, Wildlife biologists and the Utah Department of Transportation have designed and installed several overpasses and underpasses to allow wild animals to safely cross the highway.”

Green, Ashley, Highway wildlife crossings, Connections between habitats are important for wildlife. Wildlife Blog, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/675-highway-wildlife-crossings.html

Kenley Fry, Rachel, Safe passage: Sardine Canyon wildlife crossings improved, The Herald Journal, October 21, 2012 Updated May 4, 2015 https://www.hjnews.com/allaccess/safe-passage-sardine-canyon-wildlife-crossings-improved/article_2d38f7f4-1b1d-11e2-a588-0019bb2963f4.html

Mapping Migration Corridors, Wildlife Migration, Utah Wildlife Migration Initiative, Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/land-animals/corridors/

Smithfield Urban Deer

Smithfield Urban Deer: Click for a larger view of Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus, Courtesy US FWS, Ryan Moehring, Photographer

Mule DeerOdocoileus hemionus
Courtesy US FWS
Ryan Moehring, Photographer 
As I look out my front window, 7 mule deer are cavorting, feeding, with some lying down for a mid-day siesta. With the final week of the regular season deer hunt winding down, some have taken sanctuary from the nimrods to join the urban herd.

For our 30 years in Smithfield canyon, deer have been regulars, disappearing for the most part from mid-May to mid-June to give birth, as do the bucks, perhaps somewhat embarrassed with strange bumps forming on their crowns.
Spotted fawns begin adorning our lawn in mid-July. With enough speed to outrun all but the fastest predator’s, mom drops her guard a bit. Bucks begin parading their new, fully formed head gear.

As fall and winter approach, the neighborhood herd grows, with a few dozen hanging out when winter finally sets in. Their snow trails through the yard become conspicuous, further defined with sprinkles of fecal material. Out back the steep hillside across Summit Creek becomes a winter playground as small groups run repeatedly up and down and around. Apparently, their abundant stores of energy allow them to break winter’s lethargy. This is generally not the case for deer in the wilds where every calorie is conserved for winter hardships as snow deepens and temperatures plunge.

We’ve witnessed a few humorous behaviors during our 3 decades of observation. Deer are very curious which occasionally works against their best interests. We had an especially aggressive rooster who became our “feathered” watchdog. A small deer herd passing through the front yard noticed the stocky cock guarding the front door and decided on closer inspection. The lead deer approached stretching his neck and tender nose to get a closer whiff. Old roaster rooster gave her a welcoming sharp jab to the nose which sent the herd bounding off.
On another occasion, our tomcat found itself taking refuge under the trampoline as 4 deer approached from a patch of forest. The cat’s movement piqued the deer’s curiosity. They surrounded the trampoline, bent down on front knees with noses poked underneath for a close-up. Poor tom was terrified- to be munched by a deer- what a horrible end!

Of course, we realize that not everyone is enamored with deer in their space. Deer can be a nuisance causing damage to landscapes and gardens. With proper fencing and plant selection, this can be managed. A greater concern is safety, vehicle-deer collisions. Here again, with proper signage, this can be minimized. I’ve experienced close encounters on my bike, so always go slow when deer appear near or on the roadway.
An excellent resource for landscaping is found at wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/deer-browse.php Blending a variety of native and ornamental plants into a home landscape can create a highly attractive environment for family, friends, mule deer and other wildlife species. Enhancing the home environment and replacing some of the lost wildlife habitat can be enjoyable and beneficial.

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Image: Courtesy US FWS Ryan Moehring, Photographer
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Copeland, H. E., H. Sawyer, K. L. Monteith, D. E. Naugle, A. Pocewicz, N. Graf, and M. J. Kauffman. 2014.
Conserving migratory mule deer through the umbrella of sage-grouse. Ecosphere 5(9):117. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES14-00186.1

Mule Deer, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=odocoileus%20hemionus

Mule Deer, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/learn-more/mule-deer.html

Capitol Reef

Fruita and the Wingate Cliffs
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Early settlers to the landscape we know as Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah planted cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, and walnut trees as a cash crop for survival along the Fremont River bottoms. Visitors today are often surprised by the fruit trees in light of the surrounding desert climate, and campers can pick apples and peaches from their campsites in the orchards. But the green fields and fruit trees also attract deer, marmots, and other small critters, which are easy to spot and are comfortable with humans in their environment.

Though the deer roam free in the tall grass between apple trees, there are other species that are a bit more dangerous lurking nearby. Mountain lions and black bears skillfully stalk around this historic district of Fruita without being seen. Mountain lions have been spotted within a half-mile of the popular campground, yet little is known about the species within the confines of Capitol Reef. With so many questions unanswered about the predator and prey relationship in the unique landscape, the park has received a Disney Nature Impact Grant to enlighten us.

Lori Rome, the park’s chief of interpretation, says, “We are setting up 10-20 infrared motion detected camera traps in surrounding areas. This is a non-invasive way to learn basic information about the species.”

The cameras will provide useful evidence and reveal the patterns of the quiet predators in the park. The public will be engaged through a citizen science project using social media and public interpretive programming, for example helping to survey deer populations.

If you’ve seen Disney Nature’s movie Bears, you, too, helped contribute to the Disney Nature Impact Grants program. Fourteen national parks are receiving funding via proceeds from the movie. Disney Nature has pledged a contribution to the National park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, for each person who saw the film during its first week in theaters.

This type of support helps preserve and protect Capitol Reef and the rest of the National Park System. The Disney Nature Impact Grant enables parks to conduct much-needed conservation projects, such as studying mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

Each park selected to receive a grant through this program had to demonstrate a clear need for the money, and how it would make a profound difference in habitat restoration, wildlife protection or conservation research. With this assistance, we should be able understand predator’s actions in Capitol Reef National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.

Additional Reading:

Capitol Reef And 13 Other National Parks Receive Impact Grants From Disney Nature’s Movie “Bears”, Submitted by Carli Jones, June 26, 2014, NationalParksTraveler.comhttp://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/06/capitol-reef-and-13-other-national-parks-receive-impact-grants-disney-natures-movie-bears25263

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/park/capitol-reef-national-park

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

Mammals in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/mammalchecklist.htm
Amphibians in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/amphibians.htm
Fish in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/fish.htm
Birds in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/birds.htm
Reptiles in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/reptiles.htm

Mule Deer

Mule Deer Herd
Odocoileus hemionus
Photo Courtesy US FWS

Mule Deer Herd
Odocoileus hemionus
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Gary Zahm, Photographer

Mule Deer Herd
Odocoileus hemionus
Photo Courtesy US FWS
David Heffernan, Photographer

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

It’s that time of year again, the leaves have fallen from the trees, the snowy holidays are on their way, and love is in the air for one of Utah’s vital wildlife species. Odocoileus hemionus, commonly known as Mule Deer are the smallest members of the Cervid family in Utah, after moose and elk. Their name is derived from their large ears which resemble those of a mule.

Mule deer have a coat that ranges from dark grey, to a lighter tan color, a white rump patch, and tail with a black tip.

In the months of November and December Mule deer are active in their breeding season known as the rut. During the summer and early fall males will typically live away from does and fawns, and begin to “play” fight with other males to establish a hierarchy of dominance. Once the rut begins males will seek out does, and become more aggressive and compete with one another for females to breed with. The less dominant males are usually aware of their status, and will be chased away by larger bucks. However males that are similar in size will posture to one another, lock antlers and fight to establish breeding rights with the doe.

Mule deer are not monogamous in nature. Males will breed with any female that will accept them. Does can also breed with multiple bucks, providing the possibility of multiple births from different fathers. The receptive period for does is known as estrus, and typically lasts for less than a day, and sometimes only a few hours. If the first estrus cycle is missed does can go through another cycle in about four weeks. When the rut comes to an end, bucks will return to being solitary until they shed their antlers in late winter.

In Utah, does typically give birth in June and will leave the herd to be alone. The older does commonly have twins, while younger does have only one fawn. After the fawns are born the cycle of life starts again.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.


Images: Courtesy US FWS, Gary Zahn and David Heffernan, Photographers
Text:     Mary Jackson, Justin Hicken, Utah State University

Additional Reading:

LEARN MORE, Find out more about mule deer and what the DWR is doing to help them, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/16-wildlife.html?start=14

Ongoing Efforts to Help Utah’s Deer Herds, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/md-help.html

Mule Deer Statewide Management Plan, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/bg/mule_deer_plan.pdf

Mule Deer, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=odocoileus%20hemionus