"We’re seeing results, and it’s an unexpected success to see results this early."
Even good change can take time to adapt to, but the animals of Utah seem to be getting accustomed to using a wildlife overpass much faster than authorities expected them to.
After the Parleys Canyon Wildlife Overpass was built over the I-80 highway in Summit County, near Salt Lake City, officials are thrilled to see that there is currently significant four-legged traffic across the bridge, following its opening in 2018, according to Insider.
The 350ft long and 50ft wide overpass was opened by the Utah Department of Transport (UDOT) with the intention of slashing down the number of animals that become roadkill victims. Authorities found that in the years 2016 and 2017 alone, the state lost 46 deer, 14 moose, and four elk to road accidents, according to USA Today. But with the opening of this $5 million project, they hope that both drivers and animals would be safe as the latter starts using Utah's first wildlife bridge to make their way across the interstate.
"It's working! Thanks to the Utah Department of Transportation and Utah State University for monitoring the Parley's Canyon wildlife overpass this year," the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources wrote on Facebook as they shared video footage of animals crossing the wildlife overpass.
"As you can see, the 2nd year of this overpass has been successful at helping wildlife safely migrate over busy Interstate 80 and helping motorists be much safer as well. Please keep off of this overpass," the post added.
At first, officials thought animals would need more time to get accustomed to such a bridge before finally using it. But not long after the birdge's opening, they could see the animals ditching the traffic-laden highway of Interstate 80 and going for the overpass, which is laden with rocks, boulders, and even logs to give the animals something they are more familiar with.
By 2019, authorities already saw evidence of some animal traffic on the wildlife overpass. Scott Root from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told KSL.com in 2019, "I was very pleasantly surprised."
Here's a glimpse of some of the #wildlife using the Parleys Summit wildlife overpass over the past month. Several hikers and mountain bikers are trespassing onto this important wildlife crossing structure again. Please stay away from the overpass. #Utah pic.twitter.com/hD2MUkKa4J— UtahDWR (@UtahDWR) May 30, 2020
Talking about the intention behind the bridge, Root said there was, "a lot of concern from residents: there are so many animals getting hit by cars. Again safety is our number one priority."
Explaining one of the ways through which animals are encouraged to use the bridge, Root added, "The fencing along I 80 will help funnel those animals right into this spot, and they’ll head right up into that wonderful habitat and then back again."
Why did the moose cross Interstate 80? Because three-and-a-half miles of fencing guided it to Utah’s largest wildlife overpass. https://t.co/FSjH05gmjo— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) December 1, 2020
A UDOT spokesperson, John Gleason also said in 2019, "It’s not something that they adapt to suddenly. We’re seeing results, and it’s an unexpected success to see results this early. We thought it would take potentially years for the wildlife to be familiar and to start using this bridge."
Back then, Root also urged people to stay away from the bridge after they found that there were individuals using the wildlife overpass for biking and hiking. Root urged people to stay clear of the Parleys Canyon Wildlife Overpass "because wildlife will not pass. This fencing goes a long way down I 80, and if they’ve worked their way all the way up here and then there’s somebody here, we don’t want to stress out those animals anymore."