Elk road signs are necessary for safety

Are the elk crossing signs on Highway 62 near Vilas Road really necessary in this day and age, with all the traffic and big businesses moving in the area?

Eric C. — Eagle Point

Well, Eric, the signs might seem like something out of our rural past, but not so — elk are still crossing the highway, albeit in fewer numbers. The signs went up about five years ago when wildlife and highway officials were dealing with a large elk herd in the Foothill Road area, east of Highway 62.

According to Gary Leaming, the resident state ODOT go-to guy for SYA, the area near Vilas Road is a traditional migration route for elk. They tend to travel in herds in fairly predictable areas, so animal crossing signs are placed along their known routes. The elk are much larger than deer and so pose a much greater danger to motorists. Also, because of their herding nature, a driver could encounter not only a large animal, but multiple large animals. And even if they miss the elk, motorists might not miss each other.

"Early in the morning when visibility is low, people slam on their brakes," said Mark Vargas, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It's a safety alert for drivers to let them know what's going on."

Vargas said the Foothill elk herd has shrunk by three-fourths, to about 20 animals, after recent attempts to cut the herd size through hunting, relocation and damage removal. Construction of the Lithia Auto Mall complex also reduced the numbers crossing Highway 62. But the remaining elk in the herd may still present a problem, particularly during late fall and winter.

He said the most probable times for motorists to encounter elk are early morning or late evening, when the animals are going to or from their foraging grounds.

Other potential problem spots for elk crossings, Vargas said, include Highway 234 at Ramsey Road and Interstate 5 near Sunny Valley, Wolf Creek and Jump Off Joe Creek.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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