I-80 shut down to move elk herd off highway

SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 Utah) - In a rare move Interstate 80 was closed Monday morning to allow a herd of elk to migrate across the highway.

Just after 11 a.m. six miles of I-80, from mile marker 132 to 138, were closed to traffic. "I don't recall a time that we've done this, but from time to time this may be a necessity," said UDOT Spokesperson John Gleason.

For about 30 minutes the only occupants on I-80 were the Department of Public Safety Helicopter, half a dozen Division of Wildlife trucks, and the herd of elk that had bedded down in the center divide near Lambs Canyon.

Scott Root with DWR said, "The median is sizable, and there's scrub oak and grass and so they felt comfortable like a sanctuary, but we needed for public safety reasons we wanted them off of there."

The herd had been in the median for several days. UDOT and DWR didn't know if the herd was made up of six elk or two dozen, but if one of those big animals got spooked and ran out into traffic it could have been disastrous, that's why they say they decided to shut the highway down.

"It is unusual for us to have to go to this extent to move these big game animals, typically they'll do it on their own," said Root. "They'll utilize some of the escape ramps that you'll see as you're driving on the interstate, in this case they weren't doing that and that's why we wanted to step in."

Around 11:30 the DPS helicopter, and DWR crews on the ground, eventually scared the elk out of their hiding place and across the highway. Turns out there were only eight elk in the herd, but they could only get six to cross the highway and head up into the hills south of the highway. As an added bonus, a moose was also scared off the highway.

UDOT and DWR officials are reminding drivers to be careful. They say there are still two elk in the median, and you never know when more wildlife could find their way onto the highway.


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