DAYTON - Thanks to Dayton resident Julie Keller, a simple reflector device will be tested and could dramatically reduce the number of wild animals killed along Nevada's highways.
"We're starting to move ahead, looking for funding and developing a test project. If this works, it's going to be wonderful," said Gail Bellenger, biologist with the Nevada Department of Transportation.
Most accidents occur at night as well as during spring and fall deer migrations, according to Bellenger. Based on studies conducted in several parts of the country, the reflectors should work.
Staggered along the highway on opposite sides of the road, the triangular reflectors are mounted at headlight height. At night, the light from an approaching vehicle will bounce off these reflectors at angles along the side and shoulder of the road, creating an unnatural, moving red light.
Readily seen by wildlife, the light isn't seen by the driver, but deters the animals. Once the headlights have passed, wildlife will go on their way, according to Bellenger.
Wildlife road deaths dropped 97 percent during 1998 and 1999 when the devices were used near Mahomet, Ill., according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, and dropped 100 percent from July 1999 to May 2000 in Essex County, New Jersey.
A Mark Twain Estates resident, Keller learned of the devices from wildlife ecologist and friend Dr. Craig Downer. She displayed some pamphlets concerning the devices at a vendor's booth in Dayton for the town's 150th birthday celebration.
"Jay VanSickle of the Department of Transportation saw the information and he was very interested," Keller said. "So I called the Strieter Co. and had them send him more."
A wildlife lover and horse enthusiast, Keller has been stumping for the project ever since. She conducted a presentation at a meeting of the Department of Transportation in Fernley July 18, and is currently coordinating efforts with Bellenger on the project.
Three test areas, one in Elko County, one in Las Vegas and one on Highway 50 East, are expected to be funded by the Nevada Department of Transportation said Bellenger. If those tests are successful, partial funding would come from the Federal Highway Administration.
Strieter-Lite Wild Animal Highway Warning reflectors cost $18 each and manufacturers recommend placing 200 per mile of roadway. There are no mechanical devices to be maintained, and the primary maintenance consists of cleaning them periodically with water.
"I think this is great," Bellenger said. "Julie contacted us, gave a presentation at a public information meeting, and spoke to my boss, Daniel Nollsch, about the project."
Manufactured in Austria, the reflectors are used throughout Europe, the eastern United States and Canada and are distributed in the United States by Strieter Corp. in Rock Island, Ill.
In certain states, deer herds have adjusted to the reflectors, which poses a problem, according to Paul Iverson, of the Department of Agriculture. But locally it could save wild horses, primarily on Highway 50 East where they frequently cross for water in drought months.
"Anything like this well worth a try and we'll do anything we can to help and support the effort," Iverson said.
None of the studies thus far have included areas with wild horses, so this will be a pilot project. Horses frequent areas along Highway 50 including the Dayton area, near Mound House, and an area between Silver Springs and Stagecoach. Any of these areas would be good for testing, according to Iverson.
A total of 600 accidents were caused by animals on Nevada's highways in 1999 including 300 deer, 211 cattle, 19 elk, 55 horses and 11 burros. The carnage resulted in about 200 injuries to humans, the bulk coming from collisions with cattle according to Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.