Are Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions on the Rise?

Are Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions on the Rise?

A roadside elk near Hoback Junction (photo Mark Gocke). 

Have you had a chance to read the 2023 Teton County Annual Indicator Report? Being a science-based conservation organization, we love that Teton County created measurable, achievable goals to strive toward the Vision put forth in our Comprehensive Plan.

One of the indicators that the county looks at in its annual report is wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs). The county uses Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s roadkill Nature Mapping data to look at annual changes, a three-year running average of changes and a five-year running average of changes in WVC. The goal is to keep county wide WVC below 206 (the level measured in 2012). From our last report, 165 WVC were reported in 2021, down from 220 the previous year. However, the running averages were both above 206, suggesting that there is still not a significant downward trend.

Despite this news, we expect the county trends to start changing more significantly over the next years to decade, as wildlife crossings are built and funnel fencing directs animals to crossings and keeps them off the road surface. WYDOT has begun construction on the WY 22-390 project which will build four wildlife underpasses and reduce WVC around that intersection. Additionally, Teton County is using some of the Wildlife Crossings Specific Purpose Excise Tax, “SPET”, dollars to have a consultant team (including a well-known road ecologist) create preliminary designs for mitigating three other WVC hotspot areas in the county.

Protecting our wildlife doesn’t always happen quickly, especially when it comes to projects as big as creating wildlife crossings, but patience can bring conservation rewards in due time. We are happy to have been part of this process throughout our 30-year history… we were founded on the goal of reducing wildlife roadkill in Teton County and we remain closely involved today!

How to help ungulates this winter

How to help ungulates this winter

By Hilary Turner

As you can imagine, it has been a difficult winter for many ungulates (hoofed mammals) in the Jackson Hole area. Nature Mappers have reported many dead animals, which have succumbed to vehicle collisions, predation, apparent malnutrition, and other unknown causes. Although it can be hard to watch, ungulates evolved with harsh winters. I spoke with wildlife biologists Aly Courtemanch, Ben Wise, and Bill Rudd about how our local ungulates are faring and how you can help.

While ungulate populations are well-evolved to endure die-off events over the long term, watching animals struggle through a long winter can be hard to watch.

As many of us have observed, this winter has been hard for many ungulates. Above average snow accumulations lingering longer than usual have been impactful. Smaller ungulates like mule deer can deal with periods of heavy snow and cold snaps, but according to Bill Rudd, what makes a winter especially hard for them is the seasons’ length. This winter, snow started in November and has continued relentlessly. Some of the largest snow accumulations of the winter have come in late-March, making things hard on smaller-bodied ungulates like deer and bighorn sheep, according to Aly Courtemanch. Too, the diel thaw-freeze cycles that occur this time of year exacerbate things for ungulates because a thick ice crust develops, making it hard for ungulates to paw through to snow-covered forage. Deep, crusty snow also forces animals into areas where they are forced to interface with humans, increasing the potential for wildlife-vehicle collisions and other conflicts.

Data from these 200 mule deer in the Wyoming Range show that fawn mortality currently approaches 90% and adult doe mortality approaches 40%.

A subset of the estimated 28,000 mule deer that winter between Evanston and Pinedale and summer in the Wyoming Range have been radio-collared for study by WGFD. Ben Wise shared that data from these 200 animals show that fawn mortality currently approaches 90% and adult doe mortality approaches 40%. Average fawn mortality is estimated to be 20-25% in milder winters. While no collars are deployed in Jackson, Wise has received daily phone calls about dead deer, especially fawns. He explained that fawns are the most resource-limited members of local deer populations and therefore, it is unsurprising that they are the first to succumb to the harsh conditions. However, not all is lost. Wise reminds us that these animals evolved with harsh winters and populations can handle it. Those animals that survive the winter will have more resources per animal, come summer, and will produce healthier fawns. In other words, there may be fewer animals on the landscape, but they will be in better condition.

As many as 600 Wyoming pronghorn are known to have died from disease caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma bovis, and many more will likely die as the bacteria works its way through the herd and the long winter wears on.

Pronghorn are also experiencing large die-offs in the Pinedale area. A combination of severe winter conditions that make forage inaccessible and a disease outbreak are negatively impacting them. The herd of approximately 20,000 pronghorn wintering in the Green River Basin is actually comprised of animals that summer in several locations, but some of these animals travel the famous Path of the Pronghorn, migrating into Grand Teton National Park each summer. Courtemanch and Rudd both indicated that biologists will have to wait until animals return to summer range to understand the true impacts of winter and disease on the GTNP population. As many as 600 animals are known to have died from disease caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma bovis, and many more will likely die as the bacteria works its way through the herd and the long winter wears on. Courtemanch indicates that the bacteria is rare in wildlife, but when it reaches pronghorn, it is extremely lethal.

Moose are likely faring better than pronghorn and mule deer this winter, however, well-intentioned artificial feeding can be counter productive. It is also prohibited and enforced by Teton County.

Moose, Courtemanch reminded me, are adapted to cold climates and harsh conditions. They thrive in cold temps and deep snow. Early snow falls may have helped them by shortening the winter tick questing season, when ticks seek moose hosts. Nature Mappers and wildlife biologists alike have observed that moose winter coats are looking better than they have in the past couple of years, which might be due to lighter tick loads. As I spoke with Wise about winter conditions he joked, “moose are doing great!” However, moose are still vulnerable to wildlife-vehicle collisions, which have been the main cause of documented mortalities this winter. Cleared roads are enticing for easier movement and deep snow berms make it difficult for them to move out of the way quickly when vehicles appear. Additionally, feeding hay and other artificial resources is detrimental, particularly to moose. Moose gut biomes can be negatively impacted by things like hay and upset balance in the gut can lead to things like renal failure. In the case of a young bull that recently died in Wilson, Nature Mappers documented the moose drinking excessively, which is unusual this time of year, according to Wise. Most ungulates get the water they need through eating snow. Therefore, when an animal is seen drinking excessive amounts of water, it can be an indication of neurological issues or renal failure, which often happens when moose ingest artificial food sources, like hay, rather than the woody resources they should be ingesting this time of year.

When asked what humans can do to help animals through this brutal winter, all three biologists gave the same answer – Give them space!

  • Leash your dog to help animals during the next few critical weeks. As ungulates burn through the last of their fat reserves, they cannot tolerate extra energy expenditure, such as that forced when dogs chase them. Even in areas where it is not required, leashing your dog may be the difference between life and death for a wintering ungulate.

 

  • Respect winter closures to make a difference for ungulates. Critical areas are protected to help animals make it through the toughest part of the winter, which is right now.

 

  • Even though we may be tempted to help wildlife by giving them some extra food, this is more detrimental than beneficial. To help wildlife this winter, do not feed them.

 

  • Carry bear spray to protect yourself and animals. Animals that injure humans are often euthanized. You can prevent this by carrying bear spray to prevent a negative encounter with any animal.

 

  • Give wildlife a brake, especially now. Slow down and scan borrow pits for wildlife to prevent mortality.

 

  • Support agencies and organizations like WGFD and JHWF that are working to advance wildlife conservation over the long term.
Raptor Identification and Ecology Class

Raptor Identification and Ecology Class

By Hilary Turner

Have you ever struggled to identify a small hawk hunting your bird feeders, a distant raptor in flight, or even a perched raptor up close? You are not alone; raptor identification is notoriously difficult, making them some of the most frequently misidentified birds, even by expert birders! Join JHWF and Teton Raptor Center for a seminar on raptor identification and ecology, but first, here is a primer on the diurnal raptors of the GYE!

Raptors are carnivorous birds that eat small mammals, other birds, and insects. Often, their ecology and behavior can offer clues to their identification. There are three main groups of diurnal raptors: Accipiters, Buteos, and falcons. There are also Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harrier, and Osprey.

Accipiters are forest hawks. They have broad wings and long tails which assist them with maneuvering through densely wooded areas as they pursue prey. Three species are present in the GYE – the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks and the Northern Goshawk. Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks are among the most misidentified North American birds. They have extremely similar plumage characteristics, but with a few helpful tips and some field experience, birders can start to confidently identify them. Adult goshawks have grayer coloration overall, with a bold white eyebrow, but juveniles can be confused with juvenile Cooper’s Hawks.

American Kestrel by Michael J.D.

Buteos are the open land hawks. They are often seen soaring high over an open landscape, where they spot prey with excellent vision. They have broad wings and shorter tails which assist them in taking advantage of thermal lift over the open landscapes they inhabit. In the winter, our most common Buteo is the Rough-legged Hawk, but there are also a small number of Red-tailed Hawks that overwinter in the GYE. In summer, Red-tailed Hawks become more common, as well as Swainson’s Hawks, which return to Jackson in the spring from their long-distance migration to wintering grounds on the pampas of Argentina and neighboring countries in South America. Ferruginous Hawks are most frequently detected during migration.

Falcons are aerial predators, built for speed with their sickle-shaped wings and long tails. Merlins are small falcons, most frequently detected during spring and fall migration in Jackson and the Teton Valley. They are ferocious predators that frequently take prey like doves and pigeons, which are approximately equal to their size. Prairie Falcons are larger falcons that breed in rocky cliffs overlooking open areas. My favorite place to observe Prairie Falcons near Jackson is by Miller Butte. Peregrine Falcons are also cliff nesters, but more typically in canyons such as those present in GTNP and some areas on the Bridger Teton NF. American Kestrels are dainty, but colorful, falcons that depend on small mammals and insects and nest in cavities.

The Northern Harrier can often be found coursing low over open vegetation, such as marshlands or agricultural fields. Their distinctive hunting techniques are diagnostic, as well as the male’s striking gray and white plumage. The Osprey nearly always associated with some kind of water. They mostly eat fish, but I have also seen Osprey carrying snakes they captured in the water. Bald and Golden Eagles are iconic birds, our largest raptors. Young Bald Eagles are frequently mistaken for Golden Eagles, but slight differences in plumage characteristics and habitat can be helpful.

Tune into our Raptor ID seminar on March 29 at 6:00PM to learn from Teton Raptor Center’s Meghan Warren about raptor identification and ecology that will help you to Nature Map raptors with more confidence and accuracy! (Hint: the April Nature Mapping Challenge might have to do with Nature Mapping raptors!) Email hilary@jhwildlife.org to sign up for the seminar.

Moose Day 2023 Unofficial Report

Moose Day 2023 Unofficial Report

By Frances Clark

Compared to last year, as Anne Kirkpatrick noted: “Beautiful morning at a balmy 26° compared to last year’s minus 12° temps.” 

Photo by Betsy Murphy

 “North Leigh Creek was amazing! It was very peaceful out there and it was such a treat when the sun made an appearance.” Kristy Smith 

In Wilson it was a “lovely warm day, 22 degrees at 9 am, 30 degrees just after noon. Windy off and on.” – Unattributed

However, there were deep-snow conditions for skiers/snowshoers: 

Barb Cassells’ team of four cross-country skied the Gros Ventre campground – “We split up and it took us 3.5 hrs just to cover the campground because we were breaking trail in 4 feet of deep snow…. Slow and arduous going.” 

 “Off trail the snow, particularly the snow that fell over the past couple of days, was too soft and deep to travel on.” Gene Linn 

 “…route was pretty heavy slogging through mostly calf-deep snow. It was good that there were four of us as we were able to rotate the trail-breaker role frequently.  We’re not sure that a team of two would have been able to make it all the way to the end of the survey zone.” Sue Rope

 And it was tough for moose, too: 

photo by Betsy Murphy

Loren Nelson: “We have never seen so much snow in the high residential areas of Jackson. The piles were 8-12 feet almost everywhere and I can’t imagine how any wildlife can get around.”  

 Steve Squalluci who surveyed areas west of the airport: “We saw no Moose! I’m thinking because of the 3 to 5 feet of snow they are staying in the river valleys.”  

 Where were moose found?

We don’t have the maps yet, but by reviewing the data, here are some general locations:

 Few were seen in Jackson, on the buttes, or in the southern subdivisions, but many were in Wilson and the West Bank. They were recorded in some numbers along the bottomlands of the Snake River, the Gros Ventre River, Pacific Creek, and Buffalo Valley – where there is cover and willows/cottonwoods. 

photo by Linda Unland

Some got pretty close accidentally: 

Matt Fagan reported: “I had just crossed Pacific Creek to the west side and was putting my skis back on. Saw, but did not hear, a moose moving away from me quick and easily into heavy timber, maybe 20 yards or less away. Moose was in a daybed and I spooked it….As I was floundering in the snow, it was impressive how quickly this moose moved. I did not pursue. 

 Sign/tracks were abundant: 

Several people noted tracks and scat of moose and tried to find the moose.

photo by Kathy McCurdy

For instance: at the north end of park: “Moose tracks were visible in the Willow Flats area, south of Jackson Lake Lodge. We did not see that animal.” EcoTours group.  

 None actually seen but the fresh tracks of at least three moose were observed, two north of the Emily’s Pond Trail and one just south of R Park near the tunnel.” Susan Marsh

And south along the dike: “One fresh moose bed with poop and hair in it. Tracks leading in multiple directions from bed.” Sue Rope 

 West side of the Tetons: “We saw quite a few moose tracks. It was difficult to determine if the tracks were from a single moose traversing the road, or from a different moose…. note of tracks when I was quite sure it was a different set of tracks coming from a different direction. 

photo by Sue Rope

 “We failed to ‘see’ any moose, but one crossed our tracks and left its tracks between the time we skied up South Leigh Canyon and when we returned. So we know there is at least one moose in the canyon.” Fred Johnson 

 The Fish Creek team finally saw some tracks but no moose up a side road just before the noon deadline. They were driving back down the hill, only to be blocked by a stuck FedEx truck. While the FedEx driver spun his wheels, two surveyors found a cow and calf nestled under a tree. Then the three women (average age 72) dug out the truck’s rear wheels so when a husband came to chain the truck and straighten out its rear, FedEx could continue on its way. Triumphs of the day. 

 No Moose: 

 The report by Beverly Boynton who skied the vicinity of Ditch Creek is telling: “No moose, no moose tracks, no moose beds, no moose scat. No other birds or mammals, except heard a chickadee at one point; moderate number of pine marten, squirrel, and mice tracks…. looking at moose size nooks and crannies…trail breaking was ok,… We tried to stay on wind slabs, which was easy enough to do. I wonder if areas that had moose also had less wind slabs, i.e. softer snow?” 

photo by Fred Johnson

A third (14 out of 42) of the teams did not find any moose despite hours of careful scouting. 

  Again to emphasize, “0” moose is great data. Thank you!  

 Other critters:   

Other wildlife sightings on Moose Day are important too: Here are just a few mentioned. 

 People observed winter regulars: red squirrels, chickadees, cross-bills, mule deer, bald eagles, and white-breasted-nuthatches. Several teams saw elk: Sarah Dewey and Carson Butler of GTNP scouted over 100 in Buffalo Valley and south; Bruce and Nancy Pasfield saw elk and mule deer during their “breathtaking” ski around the Snake River Sporting Club; and the Fish Creek team saw several elk among some houses and fields.  

Scouts along the Snake River north of the Wilson bridge added a trumpeter swan, 40 Barrows goldeneyes, 12 mallards, and a belted kingfisher. The Fish Creek team saw 2 dippers, 2 mule deer, and mallards in Fish Creek. The Hosted Moose Day team up Cache Creek had a nice assortment of birds: hairy woodpecker, lots of red crossbills, Townsend’s solitaire, pine siskin, common raven, brown creeper, mountain and black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, and dark-eyed junco. 

photo by Fred Johnson

Kristy Smith and Josh Holmes up North Leigh Creek logged 2 Bohemian Waxwings as well as a “pile of feathers from some type of grouse that had an unfortunate encounter with some unknown predator (no wing marks so we figured it was not a raptor).”  

 East of Kelly, the USFS team on snowmobiles observed 5 wolves

 “Our favorite sighting for the day was a romp of otters feeding on trout near the oxbow bend. They are always a crowd pleaser!  We finished our moose day with tasty moose bread from Dornan’s. Thank you very much!”  Laura, Tyler, and Dylan volunteers from Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures. 

 Your sightings and keen observations are terrific.  If you haven’t added your Moose Day sightings, please do under Casual Observations.  

 Changes/Concerns: 

photo by Charlotte Kidd of Kathryn Turner and Larrie Rockwell

Surprising that the moose are not in Karns Meadow but we have only seen one in the meadow all winter! Maybe next year.” Loren Nelson, neighbor 

 Reade Dornan reported: “About 60 snowmobiles at the far end of the Gros Ventre Road above Slide Lake…were amassed and about to take off. I could see why the moose are no longer visible up there. They’ve probably receded into the side canyons away from the noise and chaos along the Gros Ventre River.  Really upsetting…. We saw almost no birds, not even the ouzel that was ALWAYS available off the Kelly bridge to the TV Ranch, at least in the old days.” 

 Fred Johnson who skied up South Leigh Creek: “As with last year, due to the very heavy use of this canyon by snowmobiles to provide access to skiing on Beard’s Mountain, … We assume moose and other wildlife prefer to live somewhere with less human activity.”

The Nature Mapping data we all collect helps inform management decisions of our public lands.    

 Fun meeting people and old friends

Almost 30 people gathered at the Snake River Brew Pub for lunch. Many of the comments included the fun they had being together and new friends made.

photo by Kate Gersh

“Great to meet folks at the Brew Pub afterwards. It was fun to contribute.” Sue Rope 

 Hosted Moose Day, a special educational opportunity attracted  15 people who hiked with JH Wildlife Foundation’s Kyle Kyssock and Hilary Turner for 4 miles round trip up Cache Creek to find 2 moose: “We had great camaraderie amongst the group with several visitors traveling from Salt Lake, Rexburg, and Idaho Falls for the sole purpose of participating in Moose Day and other visitors from as far as Florida and New York who came to Moose Day as part of their winter vacation to the area.” 

Special thanks: 

We had staff participation from several agencies: Grand Teton Nation Park, U.S. Forest Service, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Teton Conservation District.  Tour companies also provided volunteers:  JH EcoTour Adventures, Buffalo Roam Tours, and Vintage Adventure’s Tipi Camp. Several Teton Regional Land Trust staff scouted the canyons on the west side of the Tetons. 

We also greatly appreciate permission to survey private lands: Snake River Ranch, Astoria Hot Springs, Snake River Sporting Club, the Morgan family; HOA’s of John Dodge, Aspens, Pines, West Gros Ventre Butte, Spring Creek Ranch, JH Golf and Tennis, Teton Science School, Indian Springs, and others.  Without their support, we would not survey moose on these private properties. 

Total effort is Impressive:  

We had a total of 139 volunteers in 42 teams: 34 teams on the traditional east-side areas, and 8 teams from Teton Valley on the west side of the Tetons. Total effort added up to: 382.75 hrs: ski = 195.25 hrs; car = 152.5 hrs; walk = 18.75 hrs; snowmobile = 6 hrs.  

photo by Morgan Graham

We had ski teams in all corners of the count area persevering through deep-snow conditions. Particularly notable were the teams on the west side of the Tetons who intrepidly skinned, skied, and snowshoed miles up the canyons—all relatively new areas for Moose Day.   

 The effort prize, if we had one, would likely go to JHWF Executive Director Renee Seidler with two partners who booted up from Teton Pass to Glory Bowl, skied down Coal Creek, skinned up Trail creek to Mail Cabin and skied back to the road. They tallied 4,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. Their effort will determine a better outline of the Coal Creek area for future surveys.

Organizational skills were welcomed: John McMorrow deployed a team of 11 on the Snake River Ranch. Teams of 5-6 were set in motion by Peyton Giffin, Fred Johnson, and AJ DeRosa.

We also acknowledge the teams who meticulously drove up and down the intricate streets of Jackson and the mazes throughout subdivisions. Fortunately, no moose were seen in Jackson as downtown is not good or safe moose habitat. Areas around Wilson were frequent moose haunts. Moose were generally scattered south of Jackson—so these careful car surveys are important!    

photo by Dan Bernstein – top of Glory

 And hats off to those who drove by car and scaled snowbanks for better views.

And for some, Moose Day was a family outing. Steve Squallucci and his wife were accompanied by their two grandchildren. The Linn family and friends scouted the family compound and adjacent areas by snowshoe and ski.  

 Long-timers Leith and Barbara Barker carpooled with Reade and Dave Dornan. “The Dornans love these rituals with the Barkers. We love getting out and comparing notes with old friends. We love gossiping and talking about the importance of caring about our wildlife.” 

 Total Moose: 

 The unofficial count is 97-98 moose…maybe 100…Aly Courtemanch and Hilary Turner need to check some possible duplicates and also review photographs of tracks to determine their freshness.  

 Finally:

Thank you all for your extraordinary efforts to seek out moose on a lovely morning. The terrain was challenging for both people and moose. It will be very curious to compare the counts, but also the locations of moose this year compared to previous years given the conditions. All this information helps wildlife managers provide guidance for moose and opportunities for each of you to share your stories with friends.   

 Together we care for moose! 

 Sincerely, 

Frances Clark and Hilary Turner
2023 Moose Day

2023 Moose Day

We want to give a final shout out to the 139 volunteers who joined us for our 14th annual Moose Day survey last month. As far as we know this was a record number of participants, as this Jackson Hole (and now Teton Valley) community tradition continues to grow!

In case you missed it, KHOL and Buckrail both reported on this year’s Moose Day. You can find the KHOL story here and the Buckrail story here.

In addition to these features, volunteer organizer France Clark shared her personalized post-Moose Day report with volunteers last week. Frances’s blog can be accessed here for those of you who didn’t receive it via email.

Moose in Cache Creek by Mitchell McClosky

While we won’t have official numbers until data is vetted and duplicated sightings are removed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, some highlights from the report include:

  • 382 volunteer hours contributed to the survey
  • 42 total survey areas covered
  • 8 total Teton Valley, ID survey locations
  • As many as 113 moose sightings, roughly on par with what we’ve observed in previous years (note: expect this number to change slightly after observations are vetted)
  • Participation from two wildlife tour companies (Buffalo Roam and Ecotour Adventures)
  • 13 participants on the Cache Creek “moose walk”

Anecdotally, the deep snow may have limited moose sightings in areas where moose are generally spotted.

There were no moose observed in Ditch Creek or around the airport. Moose were also not observed in the Town of Jackson. On the other hand, there were quite a few moose spotted along creek and river bottoms, including Cache Creek, the Snake River Corridor, and even Pacific Creek up north.

Final counts from 2021 and 2022 were 108 and 101, respectively, so we might expect this year’s count to be similar even if a few duplicate sightings are removed.

 

Celebrate Wildlife!

Enjoy monthly updates from JHWF and join us in creating a more wildlife-friendly community!

You have Successfully Subscribed!