We’ve all seen too many dead animals on the side of the road. Just this past week our community witnessed two young moose that were hit and killed at the intersection of Wyoming highways 22 and 390.
In Teton County it is estimated that over 500 animals a year are killed on our roads. A history of development within wildlife habitat has left land cross-sectioned with roads, creating a danger for our wildlife and for ourselves and our families. In Wyoming, 1 in 5 collisions involve wildlife, 1 in 50 collisions with injuries involve wildlife, and 1 in 100 fatal collisions involve wildlife. These are real dangers for the safety of our highways, but the good news is they are largely preventable.
By building a system of wildlife crossings we can protect wildlife and our families by making it safer for animals to cross the road. Wildlife crossings are bridges and tunnels designed to help wildlife safely cross the road. Combined with fences along roads to funnel animals to the crossings, wildlife crossings can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by nearly 90% and have proved to be the most effective measure to reduce collisions with elk, deer and moose. These crossings are built to last up to 75 years and, if built correctly, are cost-effective, meaning they can reduce collisions enough to pay for themselves by avoiding the costs of collisions to society and wildlife.
Thankfully, we have made great strides toward building a system of wildlife crossings around Jackson Hole. One of the biggest advancements was the completion and adoption of the Teton County Wildlife Crossings Master Plan last summer. That plan identifies “hot spots” in the county and prioritizes those areas for future crossings. The master plan provides us with a road map forward as we plan a systematic network of wildlife crossings in Teton County that will make our roads safer for our families and wildlife.
Now it is time for our community to effectively and efficiently implement and fund the actions within the master plan. With the upcoming specific purpose excise tax election we have the opportunity to bring local dollars to the table to solve this problem. By ensuring a wildlife crossings measure on this November’s SPET ballot we can allocate local dollars to fund wildlife crossing structures and mitigation efforts and, in doing so, increase the safety of our roads for wildlife and humans.
We believe a measure to address our top community priorities — like building wildlife crossings on Highway 22 near the Snake River and Skyline, planning efforts on Broadway, and short-term solutions like animal detection systems — will receive strong, bipartisan support from likely voters.
Our ask is for a $15 million investment for these priorities on our SPET ballot and for crossings to stand on their own and not be lumped with other nonconservation projects. As evidenced by packed Town Council and County Commission chambers filled with wildlife crossings supporters, our coalition of nonprofits, community influencers and volunteers are prepared to dedicate the time and resources to a robust grassroots campaign needed to ensure a wildlife crossings measure will pass.
Though these projects will require up-front investment, they will last our lifetimes and pay for themselves in benefits to our community. By our estimates, wildlife crossing mitigation efforts implemented at the 22/390 intersection, on Highway 22 near Skyline, at Camp Creek, on Teton Pass and on Broadway will save our community $15 million in 20 years, $30 million in 40 years and $46 million in 60 years. We can also save an average of 190 moose, 210 elk and 360 deer every 20 years.
We know from our Comprehensive Plan that our community values wildlife and protecting our ecosystem. Wildlife, our public lands and our wild waterways are the bedrock of our community and our economy, and yet a close inspection of past SPET ballot measures does not reflect this community priority.
As voters we’ve rarely had the opportunity to vote on conservation or wildlife measures, to put our money where our values are. With a wildlife crossings SPET ballot measure we have the unique opportunity to directly and positively reduce the stresses put on our wildlife species from development.
Please join us in asking our elected officials to uphold our community values and put a $15 million wildlife crossings SPET measure on this year’s ballot to find solutions, not only for wildlife but also for the safety of your family and community.