Big Game at the Olympics
Big game animals near roadways packed with thousands of people traveling to and from Olympic venues.
It's a recipe for trouble that has Division of Wildlife Resources officials concerned. So much so that they've teamed with Utah State University, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Mule Deer Foundation to distribute 25,000 copies of a "Be Safe During the 2002 Olympic Winter Games" brochure to car rental dealerships along the Wasatch Front.
The brochure gives information on areas where Olympic visitors can expect to encounter deer, elk and moose, and tips to reduce the risk of hitting one with their vehicle.
"We know many of our Olympic visitors will rent cars while they're here," says Terry Messmer, extension wildlife specialist with Utah State University, "so we thought car rental dealerships would be a perfect place to get the brochure into the hands of people who may not be familiar with the caution they must take when driving through areas with big game animals.
"The problem is, there will also be thousands of Utahns traveling to Olympic venues who won't have a copy of the brochure, and we're hoping the news media and others will help us spread the word about the importance of driving safely in these areas."
As of Jan. 31, many of the deer, elk and moose that were near roadways around Salt Lake City and Park City had moved to higher elevations, but Messmer says another big snow storm before or during the Olympics will push them back down again.
He says more than 8,000 collisions involving big game animals and motorists occur annually in Utah. Ninety percent of the animals that are hit die. The average cost to repair a vehicle is almost $1,400. "The human injuries and even deaths that can occur from these collisions are what's most important," Messmer says. "We want people to realize the risks these big game animals can pose, and to drive in a way that will minimize those risks."
Messmer provides the following advice to help motorists avoid hitting big game animals during the Olympics:
* watch for animal crossing signs. They have been placed in areas where there's a high likelihood that big game animals will cross the road. Slow down and drive cautiously when you see these signs.
* dusk and dawn are two times when it's very likely that big game animals will be near roads. Slow down and drive cautiously during these times.
* slow down at night and don't overdrive your headlights. You're overdriving your headlights when you're driving fast enough that you can't react to an object you pick up in your headlights.
AAA Utah provides the following tips about what to do if you encounter a big game animal in the road:
* if you see a deer in the road, honk your horn rather than flash your headlights. Flashing your lights may cause the animal to freeze in the roadway.
* if you think you're going to hit the animal, it's often better to brake than to swerve. Swerving can confuse the animal and possibly result in a worse collision with a fixed object, such as a tree or an oncoming car.