Building on the outrage from a succession of road-killed moose, conservation groups last month drummed up support, including from fuzzy-horned wildlife activists, to raise taxpayer money for wildlife crossings.
Simplified, the line heard by elected officials mulling a specific purpose excise tax ballot went something like this: Allow residents to vote on a $15 million wildlife crossing SPET ballot item, and moose will stop being hit and killed on the Snake River’s west bank. Dozens who spoke and emailed councilors and commissioners delivered emotional appeals, recounting their own experiences with road-killed wildlife.
While town and county elected officials remain undecided on SPET (see cover story), if SPET dollars are raised for wildlife crossing the money could be invested in underpasses, wildlife fencing, signage and other mitigation measures.
The highest-priority item listed in a Teton County staff report that breaks down the use of the hypothetical pot of money is the intersection that made headlines last month: the crossroads of Highways 22 and 390. A $2.5 million to $5 million allocation is suggested for the area, which the Wyoming Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct and widen starting in 2023. That SPET money — which joins a separate $7.5 million proposed ballot item for the Highway 22/390 intersection — would supplement approximately $3.5 million that WYDOT plans to set aside for wildlife crossings at the intersection.
“We’ve got two [crossings] that we’re definitely doing ourselves, and there’s possibly two more,” WYDOT District Engineer Bob Hammond told the News&Guide.
A wildlife-focused committee advising WYDOT’s planning process has identified the west side of the Snake River bridge — near where the two subadult moose were hit — as the No. 1 spot that needs to be addressed in the project area. And what’s on the drawing board is a 100-foot-long, 15-foot-high “simple span bridge,” an approximately $2.2 million addition that will connect cottonwood groves on each side of the commuter thoroughfare.
In terms of priority, the second wildlife-friendly modification on order for the Highway 22/390 intersection is along the east side of the Snake River bridge, between the levees and entrance to Emily Stevens Pond.
WYDOT plans to extend the bridge 85 feet beyond where it would otherwise land, an extra distance that would create an underhighway passageway. The cost, which the state agency is planning to cover, is estimated at about $900,000.
SPET funding, if authorized, could pick up the tab for two other structures or solutions near the intersection, one crossing along Highway 22 just west of the Village Road and another up Highway 390 itself near the entrance to Rendezvous Park. The details of what would go at the sites hasn’t been decided, but WYDOT’s wildlife advisory committee will meet July 16 to sort out those details.
Other projects that could be covered by a wildlife crossings SPET, if it were funded, are further on the horizon.
Highway 22 between Jackson and the Snake River is also in WYDOT’s sights for an overhaul sometime in the next five to 10 years, and between $7.5 million to $9 million could fund overpasses and underpasses along the stretch.
Less-substantial changes to infrastructure could also be funded near Camp Creek on Highway 189/191. At this elk-crossing hotspot south of Jackson, an “animal detection system” could be built to alert motorists to animals on the shoulder at a cost of between $500,000 and $1 million. Another $500,000 in proposed SPET funds could pay for planning a long-term solution in this area.
SPET could also be tapped for a project along Highway 22, this time on the west side of Teton Pass. There, $1 million could be devoted to planning how to stem the chronic moose collisions that have plagued the area around the Wyoming-Idaho state line.
The priorities come from Teton County’s recently wrapped up “wildlife crossings master plan,” which laid out a hierarchy of projects the conservation community unanimously agreed to, Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation Executive Director Jon Mobeck said.
On the Snake’s west bank wildlife and road managers are still learning about how moose interact with the road system. An estimated 70 moose live in the region, and in the past decade the Wildlife Foundation has logged 50 road-related moose deaths, a rate that suggests traffic could be suppressing the population, Mobeck said.
Last winter 10 of those moose were fitted with GPS tracking collars for the first time, Wyoming Game and Fish Department research made possible by a WYDOT grant.
Nine of the big brown ungulates crossed either Highway 22 or 390, and four of those animals braved the highways near the intersection, where state and potentially SPET-funded crossings are in the works (see map).
The movement data also indicates other factors, like illegal feeding, might be localizing moose in the area and encouraging them to cross the roads.
“When you collar them in the winter you don’t really know where they’re going to go,” Greater Yellowstone Coalition staffer Chris Colligan said. “The good news is the highest-priority site that we’ve identified has the opportunity for a really great wildlife crossing, and they will help make that riparian corridor functional.”