Why Elk Can Soon Cross the Road

ByABC News
October 23, 2006, 12:09 PM

Oct. 23, 2006— -- Arizona wildlife and transportation officials have teamed to keep motorists and animals safer this winter, with help from some new technology.

During the cold winter months, the large mammals migrate from the mountains to lower elevations, which brings them into dangerous contact with humans, especially motorists.

An adult elk can weigh up to 600 pounds, and when elk meet with motor vehicles, the results are often fatal for both animal and driver.

"You don't want to hit an elk," says Norris Dodd, a wildlife biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "A deer will do damage, but an elk can kill you."

So starting next month, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, with help from Electrobraid Fence, a Canadian electronics company, goes online to test infrared cameras that use military-grade, target-acquisition software to identify the presence of wildlife at roadsides.

When the software detects an animal, the system sends a message to a computer that triggers warning signs. The hope is that the signs, which are solar powered, will give drivers time to slow down.

The proving ground for the new system, called the Animal Roadway Detection System, or RADS, is a short stretch of Arizona State Route 260, near the town of Payson.

State transportation statistics show that there have been more than 200 crashes between elk and vehicles on the busy highway during the past four years.

Protecting wildlife and motorists is nothing new to the Grand Canyon State. The Arizona Department of Transportation recently installed underpasses, bridges and fencing along a 17-mile stretch of State Route 260, which has lowered the number of crashes and animal deaths. But construction can be expensive.

Dodd says the total bill for the entire RADS test system will be about $1 million, while building a single wildlife underpass can top $2 million. So far, the state has constructed seven of 11 planned underpasses.