Here's a draft of our lead editorial for Friday:
Idaho’s watchable wildlife is a great amenity. Along our state’s roads and highways, however, wildlife is a hazard.
At least 5,000 elk, deer and moose were killed in vehicle accidents in 2011 — and that’s a low-end estimate that reflects only reported accidents.
The problem is as old as the automobile, of course, but the problem only figures to worsen as the state’s population grows and encroaches into more remote and wildlife-rich areas.
One partial solution: wildlife crossings that detour animals around motorized traffic. East of Boise — on a stretch of Idaho 21 that once placed 2,600 daily motorists on a collision course with migrating deer and elk — the early signs are promising. From October through May, no vehicle-wildlife accidents were reported in an area that had logged an average of seven such accidents a year.
Unfortunately, funding wildlife crossings in Idaho has proven to be a hit-or-miss proposition. The Idaho 21 project was bankrolled with $800,000 from the federal economic stimulus law — a one-shot funding source if ever there was one. While Idaho’s fifth wildlife underpass will be completed along North Idaho’s U.S. 95 next fall, Idaho’s investment in these projects still lags behind neighboring states.
It’s time for the state to do more. Idaho’s motorists are worth the money. So are the state’s big-game and watchable wildlife populations.
And the time is right to step up the investment — because, in coming years, the opportunity will be there. Inevitably, Idaho is going to have to refocus on its highway repair and expansion backlog, an effort that was waylaid by the recession.
Every time the state rebuilds and repairs highways in prime wildlife habitat, the state has a chance to go the extra mile for safety and wildlife preservation.