Americans are hitting the road for summer vacation, and many will be heading to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks via US Highway 26.
Daryl Lutz – Lander region wildlife management coordinator with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department – said Department of Transportation biologists and engineers are focused on plans to reduce collisions with vehicles wild along a 35 mile stretch near Dubois.
Lutz said state-of-the-art Global Positioning System radio collars helped finalize the best locations for wildlife crossings.
“Literally tens of thousands of location data points,” Lutz said, “of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. This helped us delineate where wildlife is approaching and/or crossing the more often the highway.”
Wildlife-vehicle collisions along this stretch of Highway 26 kill up to 250 animals each year, costing over $800,000 in property damage, emergency response and cleanup.
Once engineering plans are set, Lutz said they expect workers to break ground on one overpass, three underpasses and modifications to four other structures within the next year or two.
Tourism and recreation is Wyoming’s second-largest industry, adding $1.7 billion to the state’s economy in 2019.
Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins said much of this economic activity depends on strong wildlife populations.
“People come to see, people come to hunt, people come to photograph wildlife,” Jenkins said. “Thus, these wildlife migration corridors are absolutely essential to maintain, not only for the health of the ecosystem, but also to help sustain the state’s economy.”
Lutz said while overpasses and fences that separate animals from vehicles are expensive, they allow herds to maintain access to critical habitat on both sides of the road. He said he believes they are a good investment.
“It’s expected that we will have paid for them, given the number of crashes that occur and the costs associated with those crashes, in about 30 years,” Lutz said. “And then the longevity of these structures is at least 75 years.”
Support for this report was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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