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Underpasses Focus Of Research To Reduce Deer/Vehicle Collisions

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 patterns.

"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 valuable information."

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 2009.

"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 areas."

-WGFD-



 

 
 
 
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