San Juan County is located in the southeastern corner of Utah. Landownership in the county is a mix of U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and private lands. The area has herds of approximately 13,000 deer, which are migratory and move from the Abajo and Elk Ridge mountains down to lower elevations in the winter.
Southeastern Utah has a low population density compared to other areas of the state, and U.S. 191 is the main thoroughfare that connects many communities in San Juan County. The area is a popular vacation hot spot for travelers visiting Moab and the Bears Ears National Monument. Unfortunately, U.S. 191 also runs directly through a major migration corridor for deer and elk in the area. The town of Monticello marks the northern end of a main migration corridor. Prior to 2016, over 300 animals were hit by vehicles on U.S. 191 each year between Monticello and Blanding.
The DWR and other partners began a major project to document mule deer and elk movements in San Juan County in 2016. Over 230 deer and 32 elk have been fitted with GPS tracking collars, which have logged over one million data points. Data indicates that most deer are migratory, and the average migration distance is about 15 miles. Many of the deer cross U.S. 191 while migrating, and many spend the winter on both sides of the roadway.
Documented wildlife-vehicle collisions and concern for herd health and public safety resulted in the DWR, UDOT and many other partners working together to reduce wildlife mortality on U.S. 191. Crossing structures and fencing were constructed to keep animals off of roadways and funnel them to crossing structures. Habitat projects were completed in the area to keep big game away from roads. The result was a dramatic reduction in the number of animals being hit by vehicles. Some sections of road saw a 80% decrease in the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Through the use of collar data, migration corridors have been mapped and wildlife crossings have been installed to facilitate safe passage for wildlife across the roadway. Elk have also been observed using underpasses in the area, which is the first time this has ever been documented in Utah. The project is a great example of how science and partnerships improve the health and safety of humans and wildlife.