Getting around by car in the summer can be time consuming. Just ask anyone commuting over Teton pass, or even from Wilson to town with the current Snake River Bridge construction. While no one likes sitting in summer traffic, think about what all of these extra cars on the road mean for wildlife..?
Wyoming is the 10th most likely state for wildlife-vehicle collisions nationally – where one in 68 people hit wildlife annually. Wildlife vehicle collisions can be deadly for wildlife and people, and is one of the main metrics we published in our Human – Wildlife Coexistence Report.
What is the trend in Wildlife vehicle collisions in Teton County in the past decade?
(Click on the image to expand it)
Above figure from the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Human-Wildlife Coexistence Report.
You can see from the figure above that wildlife-vehicle collisions have been on the decline in Teton County for the past three years for which we have data (2018-2021). This is a great trajectory for our coexistence efforts, which include reduced nighttime speed limits, wildlife fencing, wildlife underpasses, road signage, community education, and other mitigation efforts. Though it might be too early to celebrate this decline, as this data does not include this last winter, which we know was highly deadly for ungulates on our roads (due to unusually deep low-elevation snowpack this last winter).
While we don’t know the numbers yet for the most recent years, the deep snow winter of 2023 points out a few important components of natural systems and human-wildlife coexistence:
1. Human’s do not control some very important components of the natural world like the annual variation in weather / snow / temperature. These natural variations in weather greatly impact wildlife populations – for example the more than 50% reduction in the Wyoming Range Mule Deer herd this winter.
While we know the long-term trend in temperature has been upward due to human activity, we will still have winters like this last one, and we need to ensure that our wildlife populations are resilient to Mother Nature’s challenges. We know human activity challenges them, but we also need to consider the natural cycles of variation in nature. There are a variety of ways we can bolster sustainable wildlife populations to make them more resilient to both human and ‘natural’ disturbances:
- Protect habitat (especially crucial winter range)
- Protect wildlife permeability / migration and travel routes
- Protect critical food sources and reproduction sites
- Limit harvest (hunting) for vulnerable populations or individuals (grizzlies
2. We need to design our infrastructure with animal movement in mind. This is particularly important now, when WY 22 is being redesigned, wildlife underpasses are being installed to empty into Stilson, which is also undergoing a redevelopment plan, and Tribal Trails is being considered as another vehicle travel corridor. How is wildlife permeability being considered in these new plans? In many cases, not at all or not enough. The Alliance will be at the table in these discussions with low development alternatives that prioritize permeability for wildlife as well as incentivizing public transit and ride-sharing. We need community engagement and voice — please join our efforts!
How can we reduce the likelihood of hitting an animal on the road?
As we’ve noted in our earlier coexistence posts about human-bear coexistence and managing for invasive weeds, coexistence is hard work. The same is true for staying safe while driving. Here are some tips for helping our collective efforts to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions:
- Don’t drive – if you are able to avoid driving do it. With pathways, public transit, and START on demand, there are other options to driving.
- Drive slowly. Excessive speed is a major contributor to wildlife collisions, especially at night when visibility is much lower. Moose Wilson Road and Grand Teton National Park roads have 45 mph speed limits at night.
- Scan the sides of the road as well as the roadway. Often times you can detect movement or eye reflection from animals on the side of the road.
- Pay attention to where you are driving. Certain topographic features or habitat types will attract animal movement. If you know riskier areas, you can adjust your speed appropriately (see maps below to identify risky areas in red).
- Don’t go first at night. As you try to go slow, you may have someone pushing you to go faster from behind. Allow that person to pass, and then you can use their headlamps to extend your view from a safe following distance.
A few maps and data pieces that may inform reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions
Below are maps of wildlife collision hotspots from 2011-2021 by species — Moose, Elk, and Mule Deer: (Source: Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation)
Elk Collision Hotspots:
Mule Deer Collision Hotspots:
The time of the day is also important, with many more crossing occurring between 6 at night and 6 in the morning. Shown below is Mule Deer crossing times from a study of 40 gps collared mule deer in Jackson Hole (Riginos, C.R. et al. Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) Movement and Habitat Use Patterns in Relation to Roadways in Northwest Wyoming. Final report to Wyoming Department of Transportation.)
Drive as little as you can and keep alert behind the wheel. With care and intention, we can keep humans and wildlife safe on our roads. Thanks for being partners in protecting the wildlife, wild places, and community character of Jackson Hole!