Arizona is one of the nation's fastest growing states.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security projects that the state's population will increase by 54 percent from its 1998 level of about 4.7 million to 7.4 million in 2020.
Tourism emanating from the state's population centers of Phoenix and Tucson into scenic rural Arizona also is increasing at a rapid rate.
The Department of Transportation is faced with providing safe conveyance of this growing populace along the state's highways. Many of these tourists traveling Arizona's vast highways are often afforded the opportunity to view wildlife along their way. In fact, nearly 100 official wildlife-viewing areas are designated along our highways.
However, all too often the mix of highways and wildlife poses a source of conflict and risk to both people and wildlife. Collisions between vehicles and wildlife, especially the large elk, cause not only millions of dollars of damage to vehicles each year, but also result in loss of human life and injury. Ninety percent of these collisions occurred along rural highways.
Recently, I was able to observe as Norris Dodd, research biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Jeff Gagnon, wildlife research technician, David Gerlach and James Laird of ADOT captured and put a global-positioning satellite receiver collar on a 600-pound female elk. The collar will determine daily and seasonal movements of the elk in relation to Highway 260.
This was kind of like a rodeo here in Christopher Creek. It took four men to put this into action.
The large female elk seemed to be quite content in the portable cage at first. But, what was to follow was a bit scary for me, so I stayed behind a large tree. They had a rope on her to get her to lie down, and then they opened the front of the cage and put a hood on her to keep her calm. As she was lying down, they proceeded to put the collar on her. You would think it would have been one of those collars that just snap in place, wrong -- this one had to be screwed in.
Norris was on top of her trying to put the collar in place while the other men held her down. Norris got the collar around her neck, then he had to use a screwdriver to put the screws in.
Needless to say, he was able to do it and the elk was just fine as she took off into the forest sporting her new collar.
It seemed like a lot of work for these men, but in the long run their efforts will be of great importance in minimizing wildlife-vehicle collisions.
If you see these cages around, please do not bother them. This is an ongoing project in Christopher Creek as well as in other areas.
This project does not hurt the elk in any way. In fact, it is more dangerous for the men involved in the project. This is a wild animal and you never know what it is going to do if it feels threatened.
Let's hope this project can help so that they can decrease the incidence of collisions between vehicles and wildlife.