Utah Legislature Approves Funding for Wildlife Crossings

A request for appropriation (RFA) called “Wildlife Highway Mitigation” was approved by the Utah Legislature in the 2023 Legislative Session budget. This funding request was for $20M of State funds to be allocated to the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) explicitly for wildlife highway mitigation efforts including the construction of wildlife overpasses, underpasses, and fencing. The Utah Chapter of BHA was very supportive of this RFA during the Session, and was even featured on a KUTV news story overviewing the legislation. The legislation, sponsored by Representative Doug Owens, serves as a significant win for wildlife and is on its way to the Governor for signing.

But the $20M appropriation from the State isn’t the end of the road. The language in S.B. 2 New Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations Act, which outlines the State’s approval of this RFA, requires that the $20M be used to match federal discretionary funds intended for the same purpose; developing wildlife crossings. The Legislature specifically intends for UDOT to pursue the fund matching opportunity through the bi-partisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which was passed by the federal government in 2021. One of the key provisions of this infrastructure package is a program titled the “Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program”, which grants $350M over a five-year period to be utilized for state wildlife highway crossing projects. The program is scheduled to officially launch this month and requires a 20% match of state funding to be eligible. Therefore, through this match opportunity, our State’s $20M investment becomes up to a $100M investment into wildlife highway mitigation if UDOT is successful in receiving these federal grant funds. While the $20M state appropriation is contingent upon receiving this federal grant funding, Utah is one of the first states out of the gate with a state-approved funding commitment, making Utah well-positioned for the federal match upon the program’s launch.

The S.B. 2 Legislation specifically calls out the junction of I-84 and I-80 as the top priority area for crossing construction, but the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has worked with UDOT to develop a list of hotspots throughout the State, including a priority tier system with estimated costs. These potential project locations have been identified through studying vehicular collisions across Utah. In 2021, UDOT recorded almost 5,000 deer killed in vehicular collisions and collisions with animals are estimated to cost Utah taxpayers over $100M on an annual basis. Strategically-placed wildlife crossings in migration routes and other common crossing points can severely diminish the likelihood of collisions and improve safety for both wildlife and humans.

Please reach out to Representative Doug Owens and commend him for his commitment to wildlife conservation by sponsoring the Wildlife Highway Mitigation RFA.

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