For two and a half weeks, Jason Fry watched with sadness and admiration as a large bull elk fought hard against extreme winter conditions on a little patch of ground he’d claimed along Interstate 80 near Evanston.
In the darkness sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the bull lost his fight.
“We saw him late Tuesday, and he was still standing up,” Fry, who is a snowplow driver for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, told Cowboy State Daily. “The next morning, he was dead.”
The bull had gained a following through social media and a previous Cowboy State Daily article about his plight, and Fry said he’s been getting a lot of questions about the animal.
“A lot of people who have been following this story have been asking me for updates: ‘How is he doing? Did he make it?’” Fry said.
“He might have finally starved, or he might have stepped out onto the asphalt and gotten clipped. I don’t know exactly how he died, I just know he’s dead,” Fry said, adding that somebody had apparently taken the bull’s antlers.
Highways Of Death
The bull’s story focuses a larger heart-wrenching drama that’s playing out all along the highways near Evanston, Fry said.
During a recent break between plowing sessions, he joined a WYDOT crew in the grim task of collecting wildlife carcasses along a 5-mile stretch of 1-80 and an 18-mile stretch of U.S. Route 189.
They recovered the carcasses of 34 deer, 14 antelope (pronghorn) and three elk.
And the gruesome work has only just begun, Fry said.
“In our area, we have probably another 80 miles of highway to cover (in carcass collection), just as a guesstimate,” he said, adding that “it’s a sad year for the animals in general.
“It’s a combination of things. They’re starving or freezing along the roadside, or they’re getting desperate and coming out onto the roads and getting hit. Either way, it’s ultimately the hard winter that’s killing them.”
Antelope in particular have taken to the asphalt looking for forage, he added.
“The antelope are getting so tired of the snow, they’re just coming right out on to the interstate,” Fry said. “People are telling us that they’re seeing antelope just laying right in the middle of the interstate trying to pick up the heat from the asphalt.”
Things Are Bad All Over
Similar stories are playing out across Wyoming.
Wildlife officials have predicted that as many as half of the antelope in the Rawlins-Red Desert area could die this winter, along with many mule deer and elk.
And in the Baggs-Wamsutter-Dixon area, as many as 80% of the antelope could die, along with significant numbers of deer and elk, state Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, recently told Cowboy State Daily.
Because of the massive die-off, there has been some talk of limiting hunting seasons in the hardest-hit areas.
Fry said he’s skeptical about his own fall hunting plans.
“My son asked me the other day, ‘Dad, are we even going to hunt elk this year?’ I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of shape the elk that survive are going to be in. At this point, I’m worried about the health of the elk.”
For now, it’s back to work, he said Thursday.
“It snowed again last night,” Fry said. “So, today, we’re going to be plowing.”