JACKSON HOLE, WYO – At least three moose have been killed in the past three days—one on US89 near the airport, one on Teton Village Road (Highway 390), and another moose calf had to be put down by police in front of its mother right in town near Center for the Arts.
S. Highway 89 is littered with mule deer stacked up alongside the road.
For anyone left who may still not get the message: Wildlife lives amongst us. It is one of the beautiful things about Jackson Hole. Wildlife are not crossing the road, roads are crossing their habitat.
We have a responsibility to coexist. It requires a commitment on our part to watch out for animals considering we are able to travel at three times their speed in sheet metal tanks three times their weight. It requires at the bare minimum awareness and respect—the bare necessities of successful coexistence.
This is not an excuse to blame town or county or state officials for not building wildlife crossings. They may help. There is evidence they do. But the ultimate responsibility for the safe-keeping of our treasured assets like deer, elk and moose lies not in government, but with each of us every time we get behind the wheel.
It should go without saying that all of us should practice safe driving habits, especially during winter when road surfaces are slick and vision may be limited. Drive within the range of your headlight. It’s that simple. If you can’t come to a complete stop in the space between noticing an elk on the road and striking that elk on the road, you are driving too fast or too inattentively. There’s no excuse.
During heavy snowfall winters, ungulates are driven down to lower elevations. There is no forage in the hills and mountains. Moose, elk, deer, all scrounge what they can on the valley floor.
Expect to see wildlife, most notably at dusk and dawn. Know the hotspots where you are likely to encounter an elk, moose, or deer. Concentrate on what you are doing. Get off the phone and scan the shoulders of the road. Anticipate around that next bend there will be a moose standing in the road, for example.
The ‘cost’ we all bear to live in a place where majestic sights like a deer family in the backyard or a moose walking down Broadway are regular things is a commitment from all of us to be good stewards of the land and mindful shepherds to animals we encounter day to day. It might mean that 10-minute trip is going to be 15 because it is worth it to drive at a speed that will allow for last-minute corrections or stopping.
It is the height of hypocrisy to post photos of moose nibbling on the willows behind your garage, and then run over one on the way back from the Village. If you’ve lived here even one winter you should know better.
If you are new to our area, here’s a fact: You are going to see wildlife on town streets and county highways. Moose in particular are extremely difficult to see in the dark. They are nearly black and their eyes do not reflect your headlights like deer or elk usually do. Most people who hit one say they never saw it until the airbag exploded in their face.
One last thing concerning new drivers to the West, or at least Wyoming. Not sure how you do it back home but we try to help each other out there on the roadways. If you get high-beamed flashed it is more than likely to do with a wildlife warning than a reminder to dim your high beams.
In fact, there is an unwritten code to it. If someone wants to encourage you to lower your high beams, they’ll probably flash you once. If they are warning you about a cop running radar ahead, maybe twice. But for wildlife on or near the road, expect to see multiple flashes in quick sequence. If you are following someone at a distance, you might see them put on their hazards for a moment or tap the brake a few times.
Return the favor and do likewise yourself. It’ll go a long way.
On a related note, winter is hard on wildlife. Even an innocuous encounter can be stressful for them. Recent video of snowboarders at JHMR alarming a cow moose and her calf are disturbing. Give wildlife space right now. There is plenty of winter to go and they are running out of reserves.
Wildlife-vehicle conflict has been trending up consistently and significantly since 1990. Is it because there are more animals out there? No. In the case of moose, as well as deer and elk to a great degree, there are less. There is more of us. Bustling off to this and that, busy on a cell phone, and assuming nothing should be in the road that’s not supposed to be there.
We can do better. We need to do better.