Why is that stretch of highway fence along I-15 from South Pocatello to Inkom so high? That question is a fairly common one asked of Idaho Fish and Game here in the southeast region. The existing highway fence has been recently extended to a height of eight feet to prevent big game animals, mule deer in particular, from entering the interstate and being hit by oncoming motorists.
The fence project began in 2010 and was finally completed in March of this year. Over 14 miles of fencing (7 miles per side) were converted to an 8-foot fence in the Blackrock area just south of Pocatello. In addition to the fencing construction, earthen half-domes were built at certain points along the fence. These structures are called “jump-outs”. Jump-outs allow animals trapped inside the fencing to escape from the interstate corridor by simply walking up on to the earthen structure and jumping out.
The Blackrock section of I-15 has been a wildlife-vehicle collision issue for many years. Over 3,000 vehicles pass through this corridor weekly. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 mule deer winter within a few miles of this stretch of interstate. This has resulted in a recorded 102 mule deer vehicle collisions from 2009-2011, averaging over 30 deer killed per year.
These numbers are likely much higher since it is estimated that reported road kills make up only 54% of the total animals killed by collisions with vehicles. That’s because after a collision some deer wander off and succumb to their injuries later. This means a significant number of deer killed by vehicles in that section of I-15 alone, considering the annual deer harvest within the population management unit that includes Blackrock area averages 198.
Fish and Game has collared mule deer within the Blackrock area for seven years, and the deer collared on the Blackrock side do not migrate west across I-15 towards Scout Mountain. Most mule deer migrate eastward towards the Portnuef Mountains or even farther east towards Chesterfield Reservoir and the Chesterfield Mountains. In fact, some deer wintering in the Blackrock winter range have been known to return to summer range as far away as Wayan, Idaho. The Blackrock deer fence will not block any major mule deer migrations. There are several underpasses that deer can utilize to access either side of the interstate.
Corey Class, the Mule Deer Initiative coordinator with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, says that wildlife vehicle collisions are an important factor we can address to help mule deer populations within the state of Idaho.
“The I-15 fencing project has been a great project with a high level of local support”, Class said. “There were numerous partners that provided funding and labor. Without that strong community support this project would not have been possible.”
Partners on the recently completed I-15 fencing project include: Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), Southeast Idaho Mule Deer Foundation, Bureau of Land Management, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Farm Bureau Insurance, Ace Hardware and Snake River Outdoor Sports, KZBQ radio, Sizzler restaurant, and numerous private citizens that contributed funding to the project.
“It was a project that our group felt was very important for local mule deer populations and human safety”, says Terry Taysom, president of the South East Idaho Mule Deer Foundation (SEIMDF). SEIMDF not only donated to the I-15 fence project south of Pocatello but also to the Fish Creek deer fence improvements on US Highway 30.
Fish and Game has presented awards to both the ITD and SEIMDF for their contributions to the I-15 Blackrock deer fence. Dallen Lamson, a local wildlife artist, donated a print to present the ITD for their contributions to the deer fence. Fish and Game recognized SEIMDF for their contributions by naming them the Sportsman’s Group of the Year for 2011, an award presented to a sportsman’s group that has provided substantial contributions toward wildlife conservation or management.
So what is in the works for future fencing projects in the southeast region? The next priority project is fencing the Rocky Point area near Montpelier on US Highway 30. Across a small section of this highway, 6,000 to 8,000 mule deer move from summer to winter ranges and back again each year, and significant impacts to migrating mule deer and motorist safety are occurring.
If you would like more information on wildlife mortalities on Idaho’s roadways or would like to know how you can help, please contact Corey Class at 208-232-4703. You can also visit Fish and Game’s website at fishandgame.idaho.gov and click on the wildlife menu option.