Look out for wildlife when traveling in Arizona’s high country

Tunnel animals use in a high traffic area in Marana. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Tunnel animals use in a high traffic area in Marana. (Source: Tucson News Now)
Published: Jun. 12, 2018 at 8:35 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 26, 2018 at 4:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Planning a 'staycation' in Arizona's this summer, then this is a story you want to read.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is warning drivers to be aware and look out for wildlife when traveling in the high country. According to an ADOT release, the traffic call heard most in the ADOT Traffic Operations Center is "car vs. deer".

It isn't uncommon for a dozen or more wildlife strikes to occur from sunset to sunup as animals like deer, antelope, elk, bear and other animals cross rural roadways. Since 2012 June has had the most collisions involving animals – wildlife, livestock and even family pets than nearly any other month, except October which has the most occur. Each year more than 80 percent of animal-related crashes are with wildlife and 86 percent of crashes involving animals occur in rural areas.

Higher than average wildlife related crashes happen in June, possibly due to the beginning of the monsoon season, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.  This is due to the 'green-up' of plants and readily available water, allowing animals to travel farther distances and forage for food. As it happens, this is also the time that more drivers are likely to travel the state's high country, to escape the heat of city living, so more vehicles are on the roads.

ADOT has implemented several creative solutions for safe travel on some of the most heavily-traveled migratory corridors, while also protecting wildlife and surrounding ecosystems. These solutions include wildlife underpasses and elk crossings like those along State Route 260 east of Payson, the desert bighorn sheep overpasses near Hoover Dam on US 93 and even the wildlife crossing structures on State Route 77 near Tucson.

Partnering with AZGFD, these efforts have increased vehicle-travel safety, while preserving and protecting wildlife. For example, a fencing project linking three existing crossing structures on SR 260 reduced elk-vehicle collisions by 98 percent over a six-year span.

Drivers are encouraged to pay heed to signs indicating areas where wildlife is prone to cross roadways, especially in rural areas. They are also asked to obey the speed limit and pay attention to the shoulders of roadways will also reduce the chance of crashing into an animal. AZGFD advises:

  • Deer are most active in early mornings and evenings.
  • If you see one animal there are probably more, so slow down.
  • Typically, you should not swerve to avoid hitting the animal. Stay in your lane and firmly brake.
  • However, if it is a very large animal and there is no oncoming traffic and the shoulder is safe on either side of the road, it may be safer to swerve rather than risk the impact from a large animal, like a cow, horse or adult bull elk.

Following crashes with wildlife (81.7 percent), livestock is the next most common at 13.6 percent. Family pets in urban areas make up 1.9 percent of crashes involving animals.

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