Wildlife crossing advocates expected to crash SPET talks today

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A groundswell pushing for wildlife crossings was fueled again by another unfortunate moose fatality over the weekend in a known hotspot on the west bank.

A two-year-old moose known to area residents along Teton Village Road was hit and killed over the weekend near the junction of Highway 22 and Highway 390.  The area has been identified as a wildlife-vehicle conflict zone and numerous moose, especially, have been killed in the area in the past decade or more.

Ryan Nourai has been advocating for wildlife crossings in a professional capacity as field organizer for Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. The Alliance has been lobbying local government for funding toward wildlife crossings, particularly via SPET where discussions concerning how and what to allocate for the special penny tax has been ongoing. Nourai, for one, is tired of waiting.

“I drive [Highway] 390 almost every day. I’m so aggravated by so many things having to do with this road,” Nourai said after learning of the latest moose kill over the weekend.  “We are asking for wildlife crossing to be put on the SPET ballot. That site is No. 1, outlined in the master plan. Just the fact that this is still happening, as a person who commutes in this community, it’s really frustrating.”

Local resident Rob Hoff, who shared a photo of the dead moose on Facebook, is also one of many rallying support for wildlife crossing funding to be on the November SPET ballot. “This has to stop,” he said.

SPET discussion slated for this afternoon

“What’s becoming really important for me is that road. I commute out there almost every single day. Even when you’re going the speed limit, people pass you,” says Ryan Nourai. (Ryan Nourai)

Several measures have been taken on Highway 390 to help alleviate wildlife-vehicle conflict. Moose silhouette cutouts, reduced nighttime speed, and additional electronic message board signage has, at times, helped. Building awareness and a public message to slow down and be watchful has been outwardly ineffective for the past year, as moose kills continue to mount.

It is unclear whether accidents involving wildlife have been a result of visitors simply unaware of the issue, or if increased traffic counts throughout the county are beginning to take a toll on wildlife.

Proponents of wildlife crossings point to numerous successes of underpasses or overpasses with a perfect example in the Daniel-Pinedale area on Highway 191 where two such implementations have helped pronghorn and mule deer safely navigate a bottlenecked migration route.

While there may be no opponents to crossings, a counter-argument toward funding any such measures calls out the steep price tag as a deterrent. Certainly, the $2.5M originally proposed for crossings last month would not be enough to construct anything. That number has since been beefed up considerably to a proposed $15 million.

But not everything can or will get funded. What was originally projected as a ‘stop gap’ or ‘carry-over’ SPET of government items only has now ballooned into the largest ‘ask’ ever for a discussion on the special purpose excise tax. Last month, the total wish list topped $91M. This afternoon, town and county electeds will talk about how they intend to whittle down a list of SPET initiatives that totals in excess of $163 million in projects.

At approximately $12M raised by the tax per year, such a list of SPET projects would take until 2033 to pay off.

Wildlife crossings proponents demand to be heard

This afternoon’s JIM will begin with a preliminary discussion on SPET items for the November election. Town and county officials have just one month remaining to lock down what will be o the ballot.

Today’s agenda item regarding SPET will be a process-only discussion, according to town/county staff. Therefore, no public comment will be taken on what people would like to see on the ballot.

That won’t deter many in the community who plan to attend the meeting with signs to display their frustrations and desires even if their words will be disallowed.

“I think there’s going be a lot of people there. I’ll be present,” Nourai said. “There’s going be a lot of signs—that’s what you are going to see—because we can’t give public comment.”

The meeting begins at 1:30pm at the Town Hall.

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