January 5, 2009
Kemmerer, Wyoming - Christmas came early to the Wyoming
Range mule deer herd and motorists using Highway 30 in Nugget
Canyon, as hundreds of mule deer and a handful of elk are using
the highway underpasses to migrate to their winter ranges.
Western Ecosystems Technology (WEST), a private consulting firm,
is monitoring the use of the six highway underpasses installed on
Highway 30, between Kemmerer and Sage Junction, as part of a joint
project between the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT),
the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and WEST.
Hall Sawyer, project manger with WEST, says the objective of the
highway underpass study is to evaluate how effective the
underpasses are at reducing deer and vehicle collisions and moving
deer underneath the highway.
"Our monitoring will consist of two major components," Sawyer
said. "First, we will be comparing the number of deer-vehicle
collisions that occurred prior to underpass construction with the
number of collisions that occur after construction. We expect to
see a dramatic decline. The second monitoring component involves
equipping each underpass with an infrared activated digital camera
that will document how many deer use each underpass."
"Additionally, these cameras will allow us to see how deer respond
to the underpasses, i.e., whether they walk right up to them and
cross, or whether they get spooked and not cross. Our initial
photos indicate that groups of deer commonly approach the
underpass, get nervous and run away, but then return in a short
time and move quickly through the underpass."
Sawyer says Chad LeBeau is the field technician assigned by WEST
to monitor the underpasses for the fall-spring migration cycles
for the next three years. WEST's research is being funded by the
WYDOT Research Advisory Committee.
"As the study gets going, it will certainly be a coordinated
effort with WYDOT, WEST and Game and Fish," Sawyer said.
Green River Wildlife Management Coordinator Mark Zornes says the
highway underpasses are providing wildlife managers plenty of
opportunities to gain valuable insight into big game migration
"For more than 20 years we have been working to reduce the deer
and vehicle collisions in Nugget Canyon," Zornes said. "We
continually struggle with the problem of deer and other big game
animals getting caught in the right-of way, between the highway
and the fence, threatening the safety of motorists. In addition,
as game managers, we continually strive to better document where
these big game animals migrate to and from and how they use the
land. Through this joint research effort we will be able to share
Zornes said Game and Fish wildlife technician Sam Lockwood was
hired to document big game use of the habitats, big game migration
corridors and their movements along Highway 30, including Nugget
Canyon, between Kemmerer and Cokeville from November 2008 to April
"Understanding every detail in relation to how the Wyoming Range
mule deer herd migrates is very important to us," said Zornes. "We
have already documented several hundred deer passing safely south
of the highway from late October through December. This highway
underpass project will save 200-300 mule deer a year and greatly
reduce damage and danger to motorists. Our research and
documentation, in conjunction with the research from WEST, will
allow game managers to focus on the bigger picture when it comes
to understanding big game use in Nugget Canyon and the surrounding