By Mark Holyoak
Why did the elk cross the road? To get to the other side, of course.
But in central Arizona that was a difficult and sometimes deadly scenario. That is until 2007 when the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) widened State Route 260 just east of Payson from a two-lane highway to a four-way highway. As part of the project, crews constructed wildlife underpasses and fencing to funnel elk and other wildlife in an effort to reduce animal-vehicle collisions.
One year later in 2008, ADOT teamed up with the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Electro Braid Fence (now CrossTrek) to install an elk warning system where the fencing stopped, complete with thermal cameras coupled with solar-powered flashing lights to signal drivers when elk were present. Data shows the effort reduced animal-vehicle collisions by 97 percent!
One decade later and the original project showed signs of wear and tear. Additionally, ADOT wanted to install new technologies to improve and upgrade the system but it needed new funding to do so.
Again, it was a team effort. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation answered the call by providing $25,000 in grant funding. Those dollars, in turn, leveraged an additional $25,000 in partner funding to generate the $50,000 needed to get the work done.
Where did the RMEF funds come from to pay for this project? RMEF’s stalwart Arizona volunteers raised the money by holding banquets, membership drives and other events designed to raise funding for RMEF’s mission. Arizona is home to more than 6,600 RMEF members and eight chapters.
“Year after year, our volunteers host quality events that benefit elk here in Arizona,” said Ron Pittman, RMEF senior regional director. “This project is just another example of that. Thanks to their work and the support of our members and the outdoor community, we can put the dollars they raise back on the ground right here in our own backyard.”
In 2018, crews used the funding to replace the existing 10-year-old rubber matt with an electrified concrete mat that triggers the system when elk enter the right-of-way within the crossing zone. And it’s working great. Studies show that more than 1,000 elk use the crossing every year.Since 1986, RMEF and its partners completed 495 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Arizona with a combined value of more than $34.7 million. These projects protected or enhanced 426,204 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 21,585 acres.
Those statistics highlight a long-term commitment that not only ensures the future of elk, other wildlife, their habit and our hunting heritage, but it helps elk safely cross the road too.
What are some of the highlights of volunteering in your state? Let us know by sending an email to [email protected].