By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
A 17-mile wildlife crossing project in southwestern Wyoming will make a significant difference for mule deer in the region, according to an official with the Muley Fanatic Foundation.
Josh Coursey, president and CEO of the foundation, told Cowboy State Daily he was excited about this week’s start of work on the Dry Piney Wildlife Crossing Project near LaBarge.
“It’s a very expensive project at $15 million, but it’s truly the flavor of the day for how conservation in the 21st century works,” Coursey said. “The one thing about overpasses and underpasses, you can quantify their success instantaneously.”
The project includes fencing about 17 miles of U.S. Highway 189 and building nine underpasses beneath the highway.
The project should be complete by fall of 2023, Coursey said, but likely, at least a few of the underpasses will be open by the end of the year.
According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, there are an average of 6,000 collisions between vehicles and big game in Wyoming every year, which result in $20 million to $23 million in wildlife losses and $24 million to $29 million in personal injury costs.
Eighty-five percent of the wildlife collisions in the state involve mule deer. Fifteen percent of all Wyoming crashes involve wildlife.
The Dry Piney area is the third “hottest” spot in the state for wildlife collisions, according to MFF.
“This (project) is going to help the mule deer population exponentially, while in turn enhancing motorists’ safety,” Coursey said. “The connectivity of mule deer migration is so important to their overall sustainability of the herd’s health. That’s what these underpasses will allow for.”
MFF has donated a little more than $100,000 to the project, which Coursey called a “drop in the bucket” compared to its $15 million price tag, but the organization was also integral in the creation of the Wyoming Wildlife Conservation license plates, which raise money for the Wildlife Conservation Fund.
The funds raised from the license plate sales are used for wildlife projects related to roadways, such as wildlife-friendly fencing modification, signage, overpasses and underpasses.
Besides the Dry Piney project, Keith Fulton, assistant chief engineer of planning and engineering for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, told Cowboy State Daily that there are a couple of other wildlife crossing projects the department is hoping to get off the ground in the next three to five years.
“When we did the traverse point crossing down by Pinedale, we saw a decrease in animal/vehicle collisions by about 80%,” Fulton said Friday. “I don’t think we had a number in mind for a goal, but we started looking back at crash data and carcass counts and we saw very good improvement.”
Earlier this year, the construction of a $3.8 million crossing path between Buffalo and Kaycee was announced.