Moose collars already producing data

WILSON, WY — Of the 10 moose that the Wyoming Fish and Game Department collared in Wilson last week, two have already crossed the road — twice.

Wyoming Game and Fish just finished outfitting 10 moose hanging out near Highway 22 and Highway 390 (Moose Wilson Road) with GPS collars. The goal is to track the animals’ behavior to understand where the moose do, or do not, cross each highway. The results will help WYDOT plan the reconstruction of the Wilson Bridge and account for safe animal crossings.

“Primarily, we’d like to know where these animals are crossing these highways, where they prefer to cross, and even more specifically, we can learn when they cross — what time of year, even what time of day,” said Game and Fish Public Information Specialist Mark Gocke.

Game and Fish chose the moose at random, based on reports they got from private landowners, drivers, and residents. Landowners were instrumental in locating and even tagging the moose, Gocke said. Many of them got to help collar the animals. That Game and Fish were able to find and collar 10 moose without a problem, Gocke said is indicative of how popular the habitat in Wilson is for them.

But that two of the 10 moose have already been recorded crossing the road is “kind of surprising,” Gocke said. Given how much snow is still on the ground, Gocke is surprised to see that much mobility. Even more surprising is that each moose crossed the road twice.

One of the moose crossed Highway 390 from the Stilson Ranch area over to R Park and back. The bike path goes through a tunnel under the road right around there, but Gocke said he doesn’t know whether the moose used it. That area is also right around where a moose was struck and killed earlier this year.

WGFD

The other moose crossed Highway 390 further north, by Nethercott Lane, once each way. The same moose then traveled south, crossed Highway 22, and is now hanging out by Green Lane.

“We’re getting some good data already,” Gocke said.

Ryan Nourai, Associate Field Organizer for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, is also surprised by how much data the study has already collected. Considering any structural change to Highway 22 or Highway 390 is going to take time, it’s a bit staggering to see such immediate results.

“I thought we’d have to wait much longer,” Nourai said.

On the other hand, Nourai said the data are a testament that “people need to do something in the meanwhile.” Nourai has been on the forefront of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Wildlife Crossings campaign and hopes to see it on the SPET (Specific Purpose Excise Tax) ballot in November 2019. But that’s a long-term solution, he said. We also need to be focusing on “things we can do right now.” And given the sheer volume of people who have reached out to him and tried to take immediate action, maybe the immediate data aren’t so surprising after all.

Nourai points to the elk and moose silhouettes placed strategically on Highway 22 and 390 as examples of more immediate action. The Conservation Alliance partnered with Jackson Hole Public Art, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and Teton County’s engineering department to build those life-sized reminders that wildlife is on the road. The animal silhouettes are strategically placed in spots outlined by the Wildlife Crossings Master Plan as priority crossing sites.

The data is also fairly in line with what the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s 2018 Wildlife Collision Report tells us — that Highways 22 and 390 are especially deadly for moose. They offer kind of the perfect recipe for vehicle collisions, Gocke said. The surrounding areas are perfect moose habitat — wet, riparian, dense with willows, aspen, and cottonwoods — but they’ve also become “really popular human habitat.” And both Highway 22 and Highway 390 are “the busier stretches of road in the state. It really presents conflicts,” Gocke said.

Other efforts to lower wildlife-vehicle collisions have indeed been effective — blinking speed signs, lower speed limits, trimming back willows for better visibility. Anecdotally, Gocke said those changes have all worked, to an extent.

“We probably will always still have an animal get hit by a vehicle in these areas,” Gocke said. But in other areas of the state that have constructed wildlife crossings, namely Pinedale, wildlife-vehicle collisions have decreased by 85%.

“We know that it can really help,” Gocke said. “That’s why we’re going through the trouble.”

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