It seems wildlife overpass advocates are throwing a temper tantrum over the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) selecting Alternative 3 in the Targhee Pass (TP) Environmental Assessment (EA). Since Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) was exposed for their deep involvement with both ITD and Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG) in pushing for overpasses they have chosen to recuse themselves from the tantrum, instead turning to their counterparts to cry foul. Those counterparts include the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC), Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF), and Idaho Conservation League (ICL).
All of these groups partner with Y2Y. Kathy Rinaldi is the Idaho Conservation Coordinator for GYC, Brian Brooks is the IWF Executive Director which not only partners with Y2Y but also with the National Wildlife Federation, and Rick Johnson is the ICL Executive Director. These groups and individuals are organizing to challenge ITD and the EA decision for the no overpass Alternative 3, but in doing so have used inaccurate information which they are disseminating to the public and media. Here are the facts.
Mr. Brooks began his article with the statement, "Idaho Transportation Department’s own data, which was never publicly distributed, directly contradicts their preferred alternative of the expansion of Highway 20...". The report link for the "ADS do not work" comment is inaccurate, the report did not state that. It was a survey of various ADS uses in Canada and other states, on a variety of species, and different geologic areas, while also recognizing the limitations of some survey information affecting the ability to determine if the system was efficient.
Mr. Brooks most egregious claim was that ADS costs more than an overpass. Alternative 2, including the road upgrade with overpasses, would cost $25-30.5 million. The selected Alternative 3 with upgrades and no overpasses would cost $15-19.5 million. Certainly an $11 million dollar savings is enough to maintain an ADS system for many years. The Federal Highway Administration even recognizes "...animal detection systems have the potential to permit safer crossing opportunities for large wildlife anywhere along the outfitted roadway..." and the variables that interfere with effectiveness. In his quest to convince you to believe what he wrote is accurate, a pre-written comment supporting his position was also provided in the article to be sent in to ITD.
Brian Brooks stated Hwy 20 "...is set for a 4-lane expansion and 1.5 million more cars in the next ten years." The only section of Hwy 20 being evaluated right now is at Targhee Pass (TP) which does not include a 4 lane expansion. He did not identify his source for knowing how many cars would be traveling Hwy 20 in ten years, this opinion is a guess, not a fact.
The collar report he references is the 2014 US 20 Road Ecology Report. In that report there was nothing substantiating his claim that "Existing collar data shows that elk spend weeks traveling alongside Highway 20, spooked back into the woods due to traffic and noise." The collar study was on Moose and Elk and only where they crossed Hwy 20, studying different times of the day, and in the spring and fall during their migratory times. There was also nothing reported about their inability to reach food sources or Hwy 20 causing herd isolation.
While Mr. Brooks claims Highway 20 "...runs through migration paths of big game herds to and from Yellowstone...", the truth is the Sand Creek herd is not a migratory herd that must cross Hwy 20 for migration to and from Yellowstone, staying primarily on the west side of the highway which does not result in fragmentation. These herds summer in high country around IP and in Harriman State Park and both Sand Creek and Northern Yellowstone herds are far more threatened by Wolves and Grizzlies. Mr. Brooks failed to mention that Elk wildlife vehicle collisions (WVC) at TP fail in numbers to support any overpass.
As to his claim that ITD did not use their own data that supported overpasses, that is incorrect. The link in the article to the report is under "the cost-benefit analysis that favors crossings". He is referring to a report by Renee Seidler for the TP project that was completed during an unknown time in 2018, however it is cited in the EA report, appears on the TP project website, and was released the same day as the EA. On page 136 the EA states, "1.0. Reasons for low benefit-cost ratios are the low number of crashes overall and relatively low costs of property damage per crash." and "Another ITD-funded study of wildlife safety solutions (Cramer, 2016) also found benefit-cost ratios lower than 1.0 for wildlife crossings for the Targhee Pass segment (Alternative 2)."
In the article Mr. Brooks argues there would be no restrictions in Alternative 2. However, there are several restrictions listed in the EA including restricted access through gates, snowmobile restrictions, barriers with fencing, and exclusions to recreationists. Most important of all, the ability to build overpasses was impossible because no agreements on easements had been obtained from private land owners, and with easements come restrictions on use and development. Multiple other documentation supports restriction of activity and development near wildlife overpasses.
These conservation groups are reliable in using the media to advance their message. In the February 4, 2019 edition of the Idaho Falls Post Register, the IWF again gave the same erroneous information, the other groups not identified. However the statement included in this article really reveals the truth behind why overpasses are desperately wanted, “To date, no highway design elements can increase wildlife connectivity except crossing structures...with fences,” the Fish and Game assessment stated." It is about connectivity, not anything to do with WVC numbers, overpasses, or ADS. An unsubstantiated 30 large animal deaths may have occurred but Elk were the focus of the project, not all animals.
In the Rexburg Standard Journal, published January 28, 2019, Kathy Rinaldi "...argued about the effectiveness of the animal detection systems...". In truth the low number of WVC do not justify the cost of an overpass. As stated in the EA, page 136, "ITD also did not include the unreported accidents from law enforcement and reported carcass information from the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Information System. However, the results are not sensitive to the wildlife-related annual crash rate or efficacy of measures. This is due to the overall low magnitude of crashes, low cost per crash, and comparatively high cost of mitigation measures."