It could be a bright spot in an otherwise grim year for wildlife -- Wyoming might snag its share of $350 million in federal funding specifically for wildlife road crossings.
"We do aim to apply for this grant, but limited state match funding is a factor that will determine how much we can reasonably take on," Wyoming Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jordan Achs told Cowboy State Daily.
She was referring to the Federal Highway Administration's new Wildlife Crossings Program. Roughly $100 million is immediately available through grant applications, and a total of $350 million is set to be dolled out through 2026.
The grants require 20% matching funds from any state or local agency that applies for one, meaning the federal government will cover 80 percent of any project's cost, Rob Ament of Bozeman, Montana told Cowboy State Daily. He's a spokesman for the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, which is promoting the wildlife crossings program.
Nationwide Problem, I-80 Epicenter
Nationwide, there are about a million wildlife-vehicle collisions ever year that kill countless animals and hundreds of people, and cause billions of dollars in damages, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
In Wyoming, there are roughly 6,000 collisions every year. Nearly 80% involve mule deer, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
One of the worst spots is at Halleck Ridge on Interstate 80 near Elk Mountain. The highway cuts across major mule deer migration routes there.
"There are the deer that try to get across the interstate and are killed, and others that get held up in their migrations because they just can't get across," Ament said.
A wildlife overpass has been proposed there, and has been the target of other funding efforts. No official start date for that project has been set.
Another top priority project is improvements to wildlife fencing and a wildlife underpass along U.S. Highway 189 near Kemmerer. Also planned are improved wildlife fences, three underpasses and an overpass along U.S. Highway 287 near Dubois.
Meanwhile, a vicious winter is making roadkill even worse in some places. WYDOT crews near Evanston have been picking up truckloads of deer, elk and antelope carcasses. Deep snow and freezing temperatures have been driving animals onto the roadways there.
Funding Streams Could Become Flood
If Wyoming gets any of the grant money, it's not certain which projects it might go toward, whether they involve new construction, or improvements to existing wildlife crossings in Wyoming, Achs said.
WYDOT is working with the Game and Fish to determine which project should be earmarked and how much grant money to apply for, she said.
Likewise, Game and Fish is still in the process of deciding which projects to submit grant applications for, agency spokeswoman Breanna Ball told Cowboy State Daily.
The Federal Highway Administration Grants are just one revenue stream. When combined with other funding officials have been going after, they could turn into a flood of dollars for the crossing projects.
Officials last fall said that up to $21 million for wildlife crossings in Wyoming could come from the Biden Administration's controversial "30 x 30 project"
The 30×30 project has an ambitious vision of setting aside for conservation 30% of the world's wildlands by 2030. It hinges heavily upon protecting wildlife migration corridors around the globe.
And in September, Gov. Mark Gordon requested, and received, a $10 million allocation from the Wyoming Legislature for the Halleck Ridge, Kemmerer and Dubois wildlife crossing projects.
Mark Heinz can be reached at: Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com