A new plan proposes 12 sites around Teton County for wildlife crossing structures to improve motorist and wildlife safety.

“I think that this is a pretty significant step,” county commission Chairman Mark Newcomb said, “to get to this point where we’re looking at some very tangible ways to address wildlife-vehicle collisions.”

In 2016 the county hired Western Transportation Institute to create the Teton County Wildlife Crossings Master Plan for $100,000. It’s called for in the town and county’s Integrated Transportation Plan.

“As a community we have decided through our Comprehensive Planning efforts that wildlife conservation and wildlife crossings are integral to our future,” an introduction to the plan says. “Taking these next steps will pay dividends to the future conditions of Jackson and how we interact as a community with the broader ecosystem.”

The Highway 22 and Highway 390 intersection, Highway 22 west of Coyote Canyon, and Camp Creek are listed as top priorities reviewed by consultants and a local advisory group.

“It’s great to have the study, but it doesn’t mean anything unless we can pull the trigger and move forward,” Commissioner Paul Vogelheim said. “I really applaud the work that you guys have done in terms of identifying the three projects to kickstart this and prioritize. That’s the toughest part about this job, is prioritizing with limited funds.”

The report focuses on wildlife-vehicle collisions as a human safety issue as much as a conservation issue, giving both factors equal weight in the prioritization of the proposed crossing sites.

“Independent of collisions, we want to be able to allow wildlife to go from one side of the road to the other side of the highway,” said Marcel Huijser, a lead author of the plan.

Not just lives, but money saved

But it also frames wildlife crossings as a question of cost-benefit analysis.

“The cost for a collision is a combination of the average costs due to vehicle damage, human injury, human fatality, and lost wildlife value to hunters,” the report says.

It makes the case that investing in wildife crossing structures can be less costly in the long run than letting wildlife-vehicle collisions continue.

Consultants compiled data from law enforcement, WYDOT’s carcass removal data, data from Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation and Jackson Hole Nature Mapping, and data on migration corridors and important habitat to identify and prioritize the sites.

“A substantial portion of the highways in Teton County cut across important migration corridors and habitat for mule deer and elk,” the report says.

The plan says signage and speed limits are ineffective methods to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions. That’s because posting a speed limit that falls below the speed a highway is designed for can be dangerous. And signs work only when they are specific to the time and place, such as an animal detection system that would alert drivers to the presence of an animal.

Instead, the report encourages the use of physical wildlife crossing structures, combined with several miles of fencing to steer animals toward the appropriate crossing locations. That could be underpasses, overpasses or at-grade detection systems, depending on the landscape and the preferences of the animals. For instance, elk and moose prefer overpasses to underpasses.

“Wildlife fences in combination with wildlife crossing structures (underpasses and overpasses) are the most robust mitigation measures that can reduce collisions with large wild animals by 80 to 100 percent and allow wildlife to cross the highway safely,” the report says.

How to pay the cost

A committee of county engineers and planners, biologists and advocacy groups considered the study and developed rankings incorporating the researchers’ findings as well as local factors, such as surrounding land ownership, political viability and support from partner agencies. For example, the top priority site at the intersection of 22 and 390 is expected to be reconstructed soon by WYDOT. Already disturbing the intersection could provide an opportunity for adding an underpass in important moose habitat.

Now that the plan is complete, the open question is how to fund its proposals. The report also includes ideas for funding sources for the crossings, highlighting opportunities for state, federal and private grants.

Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance policy manager Leah Zamesnik said the report is valuable because it shows the county’s “buy-in” for wildlife crossings. She said the sites listed aren’t exactly a surprise, but it’s important that the report is data-driven.

“Having the science to back up what we’re doing along with anecdotal stories, I think, is really important,” Zamesnik said.

The county has allocated $150,000 in its fiscal year 2019 budget for wildlife crossings to pay for preliminary planning, engineering, cost estimating and design. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance has been vocal about its support for placing wildlife crossings on the next possible specific purpose excise tax ballot. A discussion of a potential SPET ballot is tentatively planned for the town and county’s June joint information meeting.

“We know there is a lot of support in the community,” Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance wildlife crossings organizer Ryan Nourai said. “We’d like to see this show up immediately, or as soon as possible, as a SPET measure.”

For the county, the next step is formal adoption of the plan.

Contact Allie Gross at 732-7063, county@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGcounty.

(17) comments

Chad guenter

As a person who spent many years of their youth in the Canadian Rockies/Canmore-Banff-Jasper corridor when no FENCES or "crossings" existed and have seen them first hand decades later as an adult. I hope these ides never come to fruition in the GYE. It makes the landscape a filthy Zoo!

Jay Westemeier

If, like Mr. Guenter, you think that a few miles of fencing within thousands of square miles of open country ruins the landscape and isn't worth saving human lives and wildlife, you probably won't like them. If you think that landscape looks like a filthy zoo, my recommendation is to get off the highways and experience the true landscape. Canada's wildlife crossings program has been a huge success, and is a model other countries are adopting.

Chad guenter

The fencing through Banff National Park is a blight on one of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire world. It is much more than just a few miles. To think of it coming to Yellowstone and the Teton's is a crime against nature. Caution and vigilance is all that is needed. Every visitor we have had, we always warn to keep speeds down and try not to drive after dark. In an effort to excuse the responsibility of CAUTION, we now have people heralding Fences where they don't belong. Disgusting.

Jay Westemeier

Highways and fences are just two of the things that have cut off critical wildlife migration routes for years, and unfortunately, they probably aren't going away. The overpass and underpass crossings are designed to mitigate the affects on some migration routes and to lessen the chances for accidents. They are well worth the money and perceived scenic inconvenience. I visited Banff four years ago and didn't find the 24 crossings there to be detrimental to the scenery at all. Reduced speed warnings and visitor education attempts have proven to be ineffective. We can't even get all people to drive with seatbelts, without cell phones, or without being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That is what is really disgusting.

Chad guenter

50+ miles of 8 foot fence from the East Park Entrance at Harvey Heights past Lake Louise is the problem not the overpasses. These over and under passes only work if you fence everything thing else. Quite surprised your a proponent of this degradation of the landscape, Mr. Westemeier.
Anyone can see the eyesore these fences are with google earth, go to streetview at the Banff east entrance just past Canmore. Keep clicking west and the fence is always there, either fencing you in or the animals out, which ever way you view the fences they sure the He!! aren't in harmony with "nature".

Jay Westemeier

I don't need Google Earth because I've seen it in person. Over the past 18 years, the Banff crossings system has reduced wildlife collisions by 80 per cent. Delegations from around the world now visit Banff to learn more about their crossing structures in hopes of building similar systems in their home countries, where new roads are cutting through wilderness areas at unprecedented rates. Among large carnivores, mortality rates are 50 to 100 per cent lower along sections of the Trans-Canada highway where overpasses and underpasses exist. In those same sections, mortality rates for elk are almost zero, compared to 100 elk-vehicle collisions per year in the mid-1990s. Mongolia, Argentina, and China are just three of the countries that have consulted with and adopted similar systems in their countries. These things have been proven to work everywhere they exist.

Chad guenter

Miles and miles of 8 foot high fence don't belong lining the scenic byways of the GYE.

Jay Westemeier

"Miles and miles of 8 foot high fence don't belong lining the scenic byways of the GYE". And neither do hoards of elk hunters during the infamous Teton Park hunt.

Chad guenter

Great Mr. Westemeier, so you agree with me on the fences.

Jay Westemeier

8' fences are the lesser of the evils in this case.

Ken Chison

I really do not feel that Teton County should have to foot the bill for all these Crossings. Sportsman groups in the southern part of the state are raising money through special license plates to gather money for Crossings on Wildlife corridors. If my memory serves me right, I believe Teton County only has a 2% lodging tax. Why not raise it to 4% like most everybody else, and use that money to help pay for them? With the billions of dollars that insurance companies pay out every year, you would think there would be some way to get them on board also. It's definitely a step in the right direction though.

Jay Westemeier

As mentioned in the article, the next step is formal adoption of the plan. Funding sources will be discussed and determined after that. The funds from specialty license plates established under House bill 39 are distributed across the entire state and is hardly enough, especially for the number of proposed crossings in Teton county. More funding sources will be needed.

David Nash

So we can’t staff a new school that we can barely pay for, because we can’t get teachers to move here, because they’d have to work a second or third job to stay here but... We want to invest millions of dollars in bridges for wildlife so that when the elk we saved eat our local ranchers hay, game and fish can go out and shoot them. Is this a ploy to create work for the game and fish guys? BTW... This isn’t a diss on game and fish. I’m merely pointing out the mixed up priorities of the town and county. It’s easy to spend others people’s money on pet projects. Vote them all out and start over. It’s time for a reset!

Byron Baker

Yes, the greenies want 5 million dollar animal super highways when that money needs to go to the people. People who worship animals over god need an education.

Jay Westemeier

Assuming you're old enough to drive, tell us what you think after you hit a moose or elk while driving B.B.. This is not just a proposal by so-called "greenies". This is one of the most intelligent plans Teton county can adopt to protect humans, wildlife and the local economy long term.

Jay Westemeier

Wildlife crossings don't just protect wildlife, they also protect humans. And by the way, Wyoming is a pretty big state. If you can't afford to live in Teton county, there are many more affordable options available to people with a little ambition and nerve.

sean henry

"The plan says signage and speed limits are ineffective methods to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions. That’s because posting a speed limit that falls below the speed a highway is designed for can be dangerous." so why would wydot continue to put these signs up

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