January 3, 2007
Arizona Tests Wildlife ‘Crosswalk’
PHOENIX (AP) - A experimental electronic "crosswalk" designed to keep Arizona's animals and drivers safe will begin operating east of Payson for the first time this month.
The high-tech crossing is part of an extensive system of wildlife underpasses and electrified fencing along a three-mile stretch of Arizona 260 about seven miles east of Payson.
The fences funnel the creatures to places where they can cross under the road, or, to the electronic crossing. The crossing uses infrared cameras and military-grade software to set off large signs and warning lights so that drivers will be prepared for an elk, mule or another animal of significant size that may be about to cross the highway.
"You don't have to train the animals to use the system. You have to train the drivers," said Norris Dodd, a wildlife biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "Hopefully, it will convince motorists to slow down."
The crossing system and fencing cost about $700,000, most of which is being paid for with a federal grant.
While electronic roadside animal detection is in use in a few other wilderness areas nationwide, Arizona's system is the first to use fencing to guide the animals to a specific area for crossing the road.
"This is the first wildlife crossing of its kind in America," said David Byron, president of ElectroBraid Fence Ltd., a Canadian company that supplied the inexpensive electrified cord attached to the fencing.
State and federal agencies will evaluate the project for two years and then decide whether it should be used in other areas.
To monitor the fencing and crossing, infrared and regular cameras will record the animals' behavior as they approach the crossing area.
Additionally, electronic global positioning system collars have been put on 25 migrating elk, Dodd said. The collars will monitor the elks' movement and show the researchers how the road-crossing system changes the animals' patterns.
Sensors imbedded in the highway will collect data on how drivers react to the flashing signs by tracking how fast they were traveling and how quickly they slowed down.
Game and Fish statistics show more than 200 elk were hit by vehicles on Arizona 260 in the past four years.
Areas where the elk are being funneled through underpasses have seen an 83 percent reduction in such incidents, Dodd said.