Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
BONNERS FERRY, Idaho — Three sets of bleached rib cages lie in the grass at the edge of U.S. Highway 95.
Shards of chrome and plastic are scattered nearby, evidence that this 2-mile stretch of highway is dangerous for both deer and drivers. In the past five years, 75 percent of the reported accidents here were wildlife-vehicle collisions.
"This is the kill zone," Brice Sloan said as he walked along the highway's shoulder, pointing out game trails leading from a stand of trees and debris from past accidents. "For a lot of animals, vehicles are the primary predator."
A wildlife detection system developed by Sloan's company — Sloan Security Technologies of Boise — could make the road safer for both people and animals. It uses Doppler radar to spot animals approaching the roadway. The detection sets off flashing lights on a warning sign, alerting drivers to slow down.
Getting drivers to apply their brakes is the objective. Standard wildlife crossing signs on rural highways are routinely ignored, said Rob Ament, road ecologist for the Western Transportation Institute in Bozeman. People get conditioned to the signs and stop paying attention.
But wildlife detection systems, if they're properly designed, can be highly effective. In other pilot projects in Colorado and Arizona, they've reduced collisions by up to 85 percent, Ament told The Spokesman-Review.
Drivers start to view the flashing lights as a "wildlife crosswalk," triggering the defensive driving found in school zones, he said.
Nationally and locally, wildlife collisions are a costly problem. They kill about 200 people each year in the United States and cause more than $1?billion in property damage, according to the National Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study.
Sloan is working with the Nature Conservancy, Idaho Transportation Department and the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative to test his system in Boundary County, which has one of the state's highest animal-vehicle collision rates.
Early results look promising, said Don Davis, a senior planner for ITD.
From December to mid-March, the system was tested south of Naples, Idaho. Thermal imaging revealed frequent deer and moose crossings. No animals were struck by vehicles in the detection zone while it was operating, though a moose was hit south of the zone, Sloan said.
Now, the system is being deployed north of Bonners Ferry, on another stretch of highway with high crash statistics.
The system's mobility is an advantage, Davis said. It can be used for seasonal migrations, and it's typically less costly than building wildlife overpasses or underpasses, which can run $2 million apiece. A wildlife detection system can start as low as $15,000 and run into the millions, based on the situation's complexity, Sloan said.
Boundary County is rich in wildlife, with herds of deer, elk and moose; black bears, wolves and grizzlies; and even a few endangered caribou. Fencing off miles of U.S. 95 to keep animals off the road isn't realistic, but training drivers to watch for flashing lights in collision hot spots could be, Davis said.
"If there's something to avoid hitting deer, elk and moose, I'm all for it," said Martin Hoffman, a FedEx driver whose route is in Boundary County.
Since the beginning of the year, Hoffman has hit two deer and a moose, and he's had a herd of elk bolt out in front of him. The collision with the moose tore off the mirror on the driver's side of the van, shattered a window, took out the front headlight and busted the grille. The moose spun around and hit the vehicle's rear, causing damage there, too. Hoffman was unhurt.
"My boss says I'm just destroying vehicles, but 90 percent of my deliveries are in a wildlife corridor," he said.