Teton County residents are fed up with people speeding and hitting wildlife along a stretch of U.S. Highway 89 that goes through Grand Teton National Park.
“When the speed limit is set at 55, people drive at 75. If the speed limit was set at 45, maybe people will drive 55 or 65,” said Bob Skaggs, who has lived in the area for more than 40 years.
He’s one of several residents who reached out to Cowboy State Daily in the wake of one of Wyoming’s favorite bears, Grizzly 610, getting struck and laying for hours by the highway in pain on Monday.
610 Apparently Still OK
Grizzly 610 was spotted Tuesday with no apparent signs of external injuries and moving about with her three yearling cubs.
She hadn’t been spotted again as of mid-morning Wednesday, wildlife photographer Tristen Moffett told Cowboy State Daily.
However, that wasn’t necessarily a bad sign.
People were “mostly trying to give her space,” she said.
Other observers reported later Wednesday that 610 had been spotted and still appeared to be doing well.
People Need To Slow Down
Meanwhile, 610’s incident has again highlighted a chronic problem withdrivers blazing along Highway 89, Skaggs said.
Residents want to see the speed limit – which is currently 55 mph – lowered there, and perhaps see a wildlife crossing put in as well.
Animals are frequently struck along a stretch of the highway where Grizzly 610 was hit. It runs through Teton National Park between Buffalo Valley and Moran Junction.
Speed Limit Change Not Likely Soon
However, it’s not likely speed limits will change anytime soon.
The highway is under multiple jurisdictions. It’s a federal road, but stretches outside of Teton are under the jurisdiction of the Wyoming Department of Transportation. The National Park Service is in charge of the stretches that go through the Grand Teton park.
Inside the park, WYDOT can’t authorize speed limit changes, District 3 Traffic Engineer Darrin Koffman told Cowboy State Daily.
Even so, the Park Service doesn’t have the authority to change speed limits along the highway either, agency spokeswoman Valerie Gohlkesaid.
“We’ve had a lot of inquires about lowing the speed limit on federal and state highways after the incident with 610,” she said. The Park Service is deferring those requests to WYDOT and the Federal Department of Transportation.
Koffman said his agency also gets frequent complaints about speeders throughout his district.
“We get constant requests to adjust speed limits,” he said. “I get requests, it seems like, every day.”
However, any adjustments would require a study of a specific stretch of road and determination of whose call it would be — WYDOT, The Federal Department of Transportation or the Park Service, he said.
Wildlife Crossing Not Likely Either
Calls for wildlife crossings along the highway in or near Grand Teton park are nothing new either, Skaggs said.
When the idea came up years ago, officials didn’t seem to think it would be feasible, he said.
“You have to have a place where you can restrict the animals and a fence to funnel them into a crossing, and the feeling was that wouldn’t be practical or appropriate for a national park,” he said.
Koffman said wildlife crossing are complex, long-term undertakings that frequently involve massive funding and cooperation between several agencies, such as WYDOT and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
There are a few wildlife crossings in WYDOT District 3, but whether any might be built inside Grand Teton park isn’t a question that’s been seriously explored yet, he said.
Signs Might Help
Meanwhile, digital signs admonishing drivers to slow down and keeping a tally of critters that have been hit could make a difference.
Skaggs shared some photos of one such sign with Cowboy State Daily. It lists the tally for October so far at “1 bear (610), 3 moose, 3 elk.”
The sign also flashes a message asking drivers to slow down, preferably to 45 mph at night.
Koffman said several such signs have been set up around the area. They are co-sponsored by WYDOT and wildlife conservation groups.
“We’re just trying to get the message out there,” he said. “Whether they work or not is yet to be seen.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.