By Mark Heinz, outdoors reporter
Wyoming wildlife highway crossings are getting a $10 million boost from an appropriation requested by Gov. Mark Gordon, a spokesman said.
“It is an appropriation that the Governor requested, and received from the Legislature ‘for wildlife crossings and game fence supported by the highway system,’” Gordon’s communications director, Michael Pearlman, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.
The three top priority projects the funds are intended for include a proposed overpass for wildlife at Halleck Ridge on Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain. That’s according to information presented by the governor’s office to the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations committee on Tuesday. No start date has been set for the project, Pearlman said.
Another top project is improvements to wildlife fencing and a wildlife underpass along U.S. Highway 189 near Kemmerer. Also planned is improved wildlife fences, three underpasses and an overpass along U.S. Highway 287 near Dubois. Some work has begun near Dubois, but completion dates haven’t been set for either of those projects.
The $10 million will be used to match funding through the Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Pearlman said, “but it is not a 1-to-1 match.” He didn’t specify what the match will be.
More Than 6,000 Wildlife Collisions Yearly
Those three projects are in areas that are particularly bad for wildlife collisions, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Across the state, there are roughly 6,000 wildlife collisions every year.
Mule deer are the most commonly hit wildlife, making up as much as 85 percent of the animals involved in collisions, according to the Game and Fish. The deer are vulnerable because many of their migration routes between summer and winter range cross highways.
That’s one reason among many why mule deer are struggling in Wyoming. They also face threats from disease, habitat loss and competition from other species. That makes the $10 million going toward wildlife crossing all the more important, Josh Coursey, who lives near Kemmerer, said in a text message to Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. He is the co-founder, president and CEO of Muley Fanatics, a mule deer advocacy group.
“We appreciate that the governor is very supportive of wildlife crossings,” he said.