How did the ungulate cross the road?
A new draft of Teton County’s Wildlife Crossings Master Plan seeks to answer that question with a variety of proposals to avoid wildlife-vehicle collisions.
The list includes an overpass over Broadway connecting East Gros Ventre Butte with Karns Meadow habitat for mule deer, an expanded underpass beneath the Snake River bridge near highways 22 and 390 to accommodate moose, and an animal-sensing system that would alert vehicles that they’re approaching an active crossing near Hoback.
Other proposals include highway underpasses, the use of fences to steer wildlife toward designated crossing areas and bridges that leave adequate riparian habitat and are tall enough for wildlife to move underneath. Several ideas include “jump-outs,” or safe places where wildlife can escape the roadway if they get caught between fences.
Goals for the plan are reducing collisions and improving habitat and migratory connectivity. For Western Transportation Institute consultant Marcel Huijser, cost-benefit analysis is as important as promoting human and animal safety because collisions are expensive.
“There are road sections that it is more costly for us to do nothing and have collisions continue to occur, compared to investing in effective mitigation measures,” Huijser said.
He said the hotspots were identified by examining where collisions and animal movement — both daily and for seasonal migration — occur. His team looked at speed, traffic volume, animal behavior and topography in those areas to determine what type of crossing might be appropriate.
For example, elk and moose prefer overpasses to underpasses.
“How much space does a moose need before they will go under something?” county engineer Amy Ramage said. “Some species physically just very much reject trying to go through a small underpass, then the overpasses become the structure that’s preferred.”
Public feedback on the draft was taken last week at a meeting. Exhibits demonstrating the details of the plan were displayed around the Teton County Library auditorium, as members of the public provided input via green and red stickers that were placed on each poster. Large posters with markers were available for the public to comment on wildlife habitats, corridors and collision hot spots that the study may have overlooked.
Ramage said public feedback on the plan was generally supportive. People emphasized that the plan should include reduction of speed limits on some stretches in and out of town, and they wanted to ensure that the area north of town and near Teton Science Schools on Highway 22 were included.
Wilson’s Horton Spitzer said that the solution should include more signage rather than investing in constructing crossings.
“There has been no reference to the success of 390,” Spitzer said. “Signs work.”
Siva Sundaresan, conservation director at the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, said turnout at the public meeting shows the appetite the community has for addressing this issue.
“We’re excited about what they’re proposing,” Sundaresan said. “This is the first time at least the county is taking a systematic look at the problem and showing potential solutions and priority areas.”
The county contracted Western Transportation Institute last year to create the plan for $100,000. But funding for implementing the crossings remains an open question. Consultants are including options for funding as part of the master plan. Ramage said funding will likely come from a combination of sources.
“There could be a SPET ballot, it could be some of the wildlife conservation groups soliciting private funds, it could be getting grants from various wildlife groups or potentially even public grants,” Ramage said. Individual crossings would be funded on a project-by-project basis.
The master plan is expected to be finished by the end of the year. The final plan requires approval of the Teton County Board of County Commissioners.
This story was edited to correct a misattribution of information about funding sources for creating wildlife crossings. County engineer Amy Ramage said funds will likely come from a variety of sources. — Eds.