JACKSON HOLE, WYO – The term “elk jump” might sound like a wildlife Olympics event but in reality it refers to an opening in a barrier like a fence that allows ungulates to pass freely. And when elk begin their trek this fall from summer to winter ranges, they’ll have a new access point onto the National Elk Refuge when moving along the North Highway 89 wildlife migration corridor.
The western edge of the refuge is bounded by a fence, paralleling the road. It limits animals’ movements in areas that could conflict with highway users. During peak migration, elk sometimes travel on or near Highway 89, posing a hazard
to motorists and wildlife alike. A few elk jumps are now scattered along the boundary, giving elk running along the roadway a means to get onto the refuge and away from the traffic.
Moving back onto the highway from the refuge, however, won’t be as easy, and that’s by design. Elk jumps are mounded and raised, making it difficult for animals to leap back up onto the highway once they’re on the wildlife refuge. Instead, elk can leave from unfenced areas further from the road, reducing the chances of a collision with a vehicle or pedestrian.
How jumps came to be
GPS elk collar data has shown that many elk summering in the Wilson to Moose area migrate to the National Elk Refuge near the base of Fish Hatchery Hill, four miles north of Jackson. Previously, safe elk movement was facilitated by interagency staff who would open gates near the Jackson National Fish Hatchery at times of key migration. While an additional elk jump in that area would have been an improvement, Refuge staff has been limited by manpower and the necessary resources to prioritize the construction project.
That’s when local resident Valerie Conger stepped up to help. Conger had a vehicle collision with a herd of migrating elk 10 years ago just south of that same location. She contacted staff at the National Elk Refuge last year to see if it was possible to install another elk jump along the stretch of busy highway to help prevent others from having an incident such as hers. US Fish and Wildlife made the pledge that if Conger could organize a work group, the refuge would support the project.
Conger got right to work. She began calling companies with expertise in fence construction and found a willing partner in Rocky Mountain Fence. President Randy Williams is a former Jackson resident and has years of experience throughout the west building and modifying fences to mitigate for wildlife movement. He generously offered up a crew of four to help build the elk jump at no cost to the refuge.
“We’re committed to reducing wildlife casualties through our work,” Williams explained. “We find real satisfaction in a project like this and were happy to volunteer the time.”
This week, the project came to fruition. In addition to supplying the equipment, the refuge purchased the needed materials with non-government funds generated from the annual Boy Scout elk antler auction—a fund used specifically for refuge habitat enhancement projects. Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation executive director Jon Mobeck also donned a pair of gloves to pitch in and volunteer on the project. His nonprofit organization is dedicated to improving landscape permeability and reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.
“This project exemplifies community partnerships and a get-it-done attitude,” explained deputy Refuge manager Cris Dippel, who was involved in organizing the event. “We’re appreciative of everyone who donated time and resources
to make this happen.”