June 10, 2016 One of the first posts on the Island Park Safe Wildlife Passage Initiative (IPSWPI) FaceBook mentions a kick-off event for their campaign. The film, "Corridors of Life", demonstrates connectivity conservation. Henry’s Fork Legacy Project members discussed their "flagship project”, including their current progress with the Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD) on SH 87 and Hwy 20.
June 11, 2016. Idaho Fish & Game (IDFG), ITD, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are mapping the ‘hotspots’ on HWY 20. IDFG will eventually hire Renee Seidler as a road ecologist in the spring of 2017. Ms. Siedler previously worked for WCS, was involved in this mapping project, and was also involved with the WCS project for multiple wildlife overpasses at Trappers Point WY.
July 12, 2016. The Idaho Master Naturalists (IMN) staffed the IPSWPI booth for the Heritage Days at Harriman. They were requesting that comments for safe wildlife passages should be submitted to ITD for Project 14054, which was the Hwy 20, Targhee Pass road improvement project. IPSWPI solicited these comments for ITD well before the project was announced on 11-30-16, with the first workshop scheduled for 12-15-16. At this event, the timeline clearly demonstrates:
▪️ Before an official comment period or project for ITD had even been announced, IPSWPI knew a project number;
▪️The IPSWPI had at least 6 months advance to front-load and submit comments for safe wildlife passages to ITD before the first IP public workshop was held in December, 2016;
▪️ It would not be until July of 2017 that ITD would inform the public about considering overpasses for Hwy 20.
This is more than a one year advantage that IPSWPI has had to enhance their partnership with ITD, and recruit comments for wildlife overpasses.
November 25, 2016 Once again Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) is connected to the IPSWPI. Not only is Y2Y program director Kim Trotter the chair of the IPSWPI, but a founding member talks about wildlife crossings being part of their own initiative to connect Yellowstone to the Yukon.
December 4 and 14, 2016. The first information workshop was held during a blizzard with poor attendance, when most were not in residency, and right before Christmas. The majority of the comment period associated with this effort (supposedly to offer solution ideas) was held through the holiday season, closing at the end of January. The local population didn’t know what was going on, but the comment period closed quickly, and none of the front-loaded comment campaign was not mentioned. Wildlife overpasses for Targhee Pass were not mentioned at this meeting.
*Note: Wolverines and grizzly bears are special protection status species involving high level restrictions on human and land use. Movement of these and other species in and out of Yellowstone Park is noted. Y2Y and IPSWPI are mentioned for supporting this, and again requested the need for comments to support it. But, the Island Park Community and the general public was not out-reached to ask their opinion during this time. Yellowstone to Yukon’s wildlife corridor effort is highlighted.
"THEY WONT BUILD THEM WITHOUT OVERWHELMING PUBLIC SUPPORT"
June 27, 2017 No public notice of an EA was given to the impact population and no public participation was solicited for the Cramer study. BUT….the IPSWP, Henrys Fork Legacy Project, and Y2Y all knew about it…in fact they were involved and they helped with the study. Their names are all acknowledged in the report.
June 27, 2017 was an important posting date for IPSWPI. This field trip to Trappers Point in Wyoming was attended by ITD, IDFG, and IPSWPI had representation there, posing the photos of the trip. They were all there to look at the technical design of wildlife overpasses. The next month, at the July 27th meeting, the public would first learn from ITD that they were considering wildlife overpasses at Targhee Pass.
July 28, 2017 The day after the July 27th, second public information workshop, IPSWPI posted the number of comments made to ITD. How does IPSWPI have access to the information about how many comments had been received by the EA team during the "scoping period’?
At the same time that IDFG, ITD and the WCS were working with IDFG, Michael Whitfield of Heart of the Rockies Initiative and steering committee member of The Great Northern LCC was running his own ‘connectivity pilot’ in Island Park. The WCS is also a participating member of the GNLCC. So…put it all together…there were 3 studies all looking at the same thing, all in Island Park, all share common non-governmental organization involvement, people, focus and goals. Their regional conservation community focused on these questions: How do we achieve Y2Y wildlife corridors by crossing Hwy 20 and/or finding a public organization project to incorporate our goals within? How do we achieve our common decade's old want and desire…how do we designate/preserve large swaths of land to create a series of preservation linkages from Yellowstone National Park to the Yukon of Alaska?
All have been working in collaboration and partnership since at least 2011-2016.
The following is a graph from the final draft report of the GNLCC Ecological Connectivity project developed by Heart of the Rockies which shows the ‘ecological connectivity pilot’ focuses on Hwy 20 and SH 87, as well as The Henry’s Fork and Island Park. This project is also looking to increasing incentives for conserving private lands here, dis-incentivizing development of the ‘wild land/urban interface'.
In summary, ITD states they are including wildlife overpass alternatives for Hwy 20 as a result public comments they received. ITD was accepting comments from Y2Y’s campaign and advocacy for wildlife overpasses campaign as far back as the summer of 2016, when in fact it was just a project number, 6 months before they would even announce a project. Overpasses were not even offered as alternatives at that time by ITD. It would not be until July of 2017 before the wildlife overpass alternatives were revealed to the public. That means the Y2Y advocacy group, IPSWPI had more than a year to submit all of these positive comments and requests. ITD is partnering with Y2Y, and has been since 2016 and the P. Cramer study. Also, ITD states the positive comments and requests qualify their ‘purpose and need’ to include them as alternative in the Targhee Pass Project. Fremont County and Island Park did not ask for wildlife overpass alternatives, Y2Y and it’s advocacy group did. ITD knows it and the timeline proves it.
Printed in Post Register September 23, 2017
Bryan Clark’s recent article “Wildlife overpasses examined near Island Park” is a real tribute to his blatant bias in support of ultra environmentalists attempting to exert control over this area yet again. Just a few years ago we were concerned about the possibility of the Island Park area being designated as a national monument. Local citizens protested with an advisory vote of 93% NO votes.
This latest attempt is aided by Clark’s article quoting several people who are pushing for multiple $3-4 million overpasses, and the opposition is described as “individuals ideologically aligned with the further-right corners of the tea party and the John Birch Society.”
The Island Park Preservation Coalition consists of private land and business owners, outdoorsmen, conservation enthusiasts and others who work together to find a balanced approach to determine how to best enhance the Island Park area. Ken Watts has been instrumental in spearheading this group, and would be an excellent source for information on the overpasses and other items of interest in this community.
Targhee Pass is scheduled for improvements including passing lanes and replacing the pavement. This is needed and within the scope of the Idaho TRANSPORTATION Department funds, which are to be spent on ROADS and BRIDGES. The legislature passed a gas tax increase a few years ago to address our aging infrastructure. This is what our Idaho citizens expect to see, not some animal overpasses that are not necessary. According to the Fremont County Sheriff’s office, 5 animal-vehicle collisions were documented on this 4 mile stretch so far in 2017. That’s a heck of a lot of money for a minimal problem.
I live in a rural area where moose, deer, coyotes, skunks and raccoons may be on the road. It is part of our life to coexist with wildlife. Our county commissioners and Ken’s group have made workable suggestions to minimize these accidents, including a reduction in speed limits (especially at night); cutting back trees so animals and people can more easily see each other; signs to warn visitors traveling these roads. Keep in mind, many newer cars have accident-avoidance features to mitigate this problem too and in the future this technology will become standard on vehicles.
In order for these overpasses to work, miles of fencing will be required and the maintenance for that fencing; both will also be funded by ITD with our ROAD and BRIDGE money. And shall I mention more limited access and private property restrictions will surely follow as these animals’ movements from summer to winter ranges using these structures will be designated as migratory corridors?
Wildlife overpasses have some drawbacks: hunter camps may set up near these “funnels,” if the grizzlies and wolves don’t beat them to the prey. Wildlife doesn’t necessarily follow the rules and may go around the fences. In Colorado a few years ago several deer and elk did go around a fence and were trapped on the highway side. Many were hit and killed; the road had to be closed, holes were cut in the fence, and eventually 50 people were able to get most of them behind the fence. Wildlife overpasses are not foolproof!
Highway 20 north of St. Anthony is in need of the precious transportation funds appropriated for ROADS and BRIDGES. I have seen the proposals for improvement on several sections. I believe the 7-mile Chester to Ashton segment should be a top priority. Along with local traffic, tour buses and semi-trucks are lined up on this 70-mile-an-hour stretch, and someone is always attempting to pass a long parade of vehicles. This summer a 2 fatality accident spotlighted the immediate need of building 2 additional lanes to improve safety and accommodate the number of vehicles on this stretch of highway.
I encourage taxpayers of Idaho to contact ITD and remind them our transportation dollars are to be spent on ROADS and BRIDGES. The comment period is ending the end of this month.
Representative Karey Hanks—District 35
(The comment period has ended, you are encouraged to contact ITD anyway as they are continuing to evaluate and determine future work on HWY 20)
This article was re-printed with permission.
Making Sense of It All
This blog will help you make sense out of all the information on the website, how it affects IP, previous articles in the IP News, our history, and how efforts continue to put IP into various forms of conservation status.