This is a rebuttal to an article published in the Rexburg Standard Journal on February 14, 2018 regarding wildlife overpasses at Targhee Pass. This rebuttal was originally published in the Island Park News on February 22, 2018 and is reprinted with permission.
The controversy surrounding Targhee Pass goes beyond wildlife overpass costs. Overpasses are the first step for wildlife corridor designation used for connectivity to Yellowstone Park (YP), a protected area. Once designated, the declaration will be made that it too needs protection, leading to more restrictive, or even banned use. These are controversies along with the cost.
Ms. Bjerke’s calculations are incorrect on the ITD Environmental Report (EA). In Section B, comments 29-55 were copies which ITD counts as 1, leaving 76, 55 positive, 18 neutral (no opinion for or against overpasses or just questions), and 3 negative. Section C were 44 positive, 30 neutral, and 9 negative. Section D maps were 7 positive, 2 negative, and 7 neutral comments. Section E listed 211 comments with 144 copies counted as 1, leaving a more accurate count of 67, 38 positive, 18 negative, and 11 neutral. Her claim that 95% were positive is not accurate.
Representative Hanks and all legislators are responsible for spending tax dollars responsibly, never stating she opposes safe roads. The Cramer study stated overpasses require more restricted access, and Elk are more reluctant to use overpasses near “human activity”. A residential area and popular stopover for tourists, Howard Springs, is located in the vicinity of these proposed overpasses, enough human activity to thwart Elk from using them.
Wildlife vehicle collisions (WVC) are concerning but Ms. Bjerke needs to cite her source on statistics. It cannot be concluded that an animal on the side of the road is the result of a WVC. There is no consistency between data on WVC, and using the one driver’s experience is not a statistic. An 09’ Idaho Fish and Game study determined the primary cause of Elk mortality is predatory activity, not WVC. Generalizing collision studies in other areas and states to Targhee Pass is misleading.
Ms. Bjerke cites overpasses being successful in other states, however those overpasses are not located in a similar geographical area as Targhee Pass. They are located in flat, non-wetland, non-historical, and non-populated areas such as the one she pointed out, Trapper’s Point.
These facts were omitted by Ms. Bjerke. Elk migrate during low tourist seasons, in April-May, and Oct-Nov. Elk do not cross in Targhee Pass, rather south of there, requiring miles of fencing to force them towards the overpasses, changing their natural migration. Studies show bottlenecking Elk towards a confined area increases predatory activity and an invitation for increased invasive species.
It isn’t just about cost, it is about protecting Targhee Pass, Island Park, people, and Elk. There are more alternatives to reduce WVC than an overpass and ITD is giving little consideration to them because of their involvement with conservation initiatives over public opinion. Over 1,100 people who love Island Park have signed a petition opposing overpasses. Those are the facts.