The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies recently honored the Wyoming Department of Transportation for its innovative efforts to prevent collisions between vehicles and wildlife including deer and pronghorn.
For more than 20 years, WYDOT has worked to understand and reduce big game wildlife mortality on state highways. In 2001, the agency developed Wyoming's first ungulate crossing structure in Nugget Canyon along U. S. Highway 30, near Kemmerer in western Wyoming. This underpass was so successful in reducing vehicle/wildlife collisions that it led to a number of additional projects in the area, including six underpasses and 6.5 miles of deer-tight fencing.
In total, these structures and associated fencing have reduced overall deer-vehicle collisions by 85% in Nugget Canyon. Research suggests that more than 13,000 mule deer now migrate safely across this busy stretch of highway, helping to conserve one of the most unique mule deer migration routes and herds in the West.
In 2009, because of the success of the Nugget Canyon project, WYDOT constructed a second series of underpasses on U.S. Hwy 789, north of Baggs. Today, 6,000 to 8,000 mule deer use these underpasses to safely cross U. S. Highway 789 each year.
Following the success of those two projects, a third project was completed in the fall of 2012 near Pinedale.
“The Trappers Point Project addressed one of the longest seasonal ungulate migrations within the continental United States,” said Scott Talbott, Wyoming Game and Fish director. “The project includes two overpasses, six underpasses and several miles of deer-tight fencing to provide safe crossing locations for mule deer and pronghorn along U.S. Highway 191.”
Wildlife managers have documented that these populations annually travel more than 150 miles between summer ranges in the northern Wind River and Gros Ventre Mountains and winter ranges in the Red Desert of southwestern Wyoming.
“Although the project was designed to benefit both mule deer and pronghorn, the overpasses are especially important to pronghorn because they are some of the first structures ever built in North America to get this species across a major highway,” Talbott said. Preliminary results from Western EcoSystems Technology Inc. show this project has allowed passage of at least 8,000 mule deer and pronghorn following completion last fall.
To date, WYDOT crossing projects have resulted in the safe passage of approximately 30,000 big game animals annually.
The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies comprises agencies in 23 states and Canadian provinces, stretching from Alaska to Texas and Saskatchewan to Hawaii.