ITD Sat On Data Invalidating Animal Detection Systems

Idaho Department of Transportation Sat On Data Invalidating Animal Detection Systems Effectiveness For HWY 20

(Originally published at the Idaho Wildlife Federation on February 1, 2019)

by Brian Brooks, Idaho Wildlife Federation

Idaho Transportation Department’s own data, which was never publicly distributed, directly contradicts their preferred alternative of the expansion of Highway 20, costing more, reducing effectiveness, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Highway 20, which runs through migration paths of big game herds to and from Yellowstone, is set for a 4-lane expansion and 1.5 million more cars in the next ten years.

Existing collar data shows that elk spend weeks traveling alongside Highway 20, spooked back into the woods due to traffic and noise.Keeping them from reaching vital food sources along their migration affects survival. In fact, transportation infrastructure is a leading cause of habitat fragmentation and herd isolation.

A highway expansion with 1.5 million more cars and faster drivers will exacerbate the problem. Without plans allowing for easy crossings we are severely hindering big game herds getting to new food sources.

The alternatives vary between doing nothing, using animal detection systems, and constructing safe wildlife overpasses to help wildlife migration and reduce wildlife collisions. Idaho Transportation Department has selected to go with animal detection systems (ADSs) despite the fact that their own data, acquired by a public records request, proves ADSs do not work and are more expensive!

Their information was never publicized or given to the public. It succinctly demonstrates the following:

  • ADSs are ineffective at reducing wildlife collisions.
  • ADSs are actually more expensive than wildlife crossings despite information used to persuade voters to oppose crossings construction for an advisory vote in November. They cost $2 million per mile and last a fraction as long as crossings.
  • ADSs do nothing to promote wildlife crossings. Those elk that avoided a two-lane highway, well, good luck with four lanes.
  • The Federal Highway Administration calls ADSs “experimental technology” in their report to Congress.

In Colorado, ADSs installed at great expense to tax payers were dismantled because they were ineffective and expensive to maintain.

IWF received complaints that wildlife crossings come with hunting and land-use restrictions. Except, they don’t. Look to Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. Hell, look to Idaho. The five Idaho crossings have zero restrictions. You can literally sit in the Highway 21 underpass and wait for a deer (but deer are smarter than that).

What gives? Why didn’t ITD provide their info that ADSs don’t work well? Why does ITD not want the public aware of the cost-benefit analysis that favors crossings? Why does ITD’s data report only 1/6 the amount of animals killed compared to IDFG and Federal Highway Administration data? Why are we spending more tax payer dollars on an animal detection system that doesn’t work? This whole process stinks.