by Jon Mobeck, Executive Director
Three moose were hit and killed by vehicles on WY 390 in July, the last of which was killed during daylight hours, which is very rare – about 90% of moose collisions with vehicles occur at night. Summer collisions with moose are also relatively uncommon. The last time a moose was killed on WY 390 in the month of July was 2009. Of 45 moose casualties recorded since 2008 on that highway, only 13 (29%) have been hit during summer months (May-October), and just five along the one-mile stretch of highway adjacent to the Aspens development. While we receive many calls and emails when a moose is killed by a vehicle, we want to ensure that we refer to our collected data to consider potential responses and initiate any near-term, site-specific actions. We also consider how short-term actions fit within larger county-wide objectives. All in all, we want to make sure that our response is thoughtful and makes sense based on the many variables at any given site. While doing so, we don’t want to diminish the value of the animal that succumbed to a human-caused death. For the animal struck, statistics don’t matter. For prioritizing our actions, though, statistics are essential.
The recent “flurry” of moose casualties sounded alarms in Moose-Wilson neighborhoods and throughout the valley. While the reality is that one animal is hit on a highway each day in Jackson Hole on average, each individual moose collision – particularly within this corridor where backyard moose are beloved – is a newsworthy event, as it should be. The challenge of such newsworthy events is to make sure that they are viewed in context, while also recognizing the tragedy of the loss of another iconic animal. In short, what do we do about it?
The data reflects the fact that the largest problem on WY 390 occurs within the first few miles. Since 2008, 82% of all collisions on WY 390 have occurred in the first 3 miles, with nearly half of all collisions occurring in the first mile. If you add WY 22 to the mix (1/2 mile to the east and west of the WY 390 intersection), six moose have been killed within 1/2 mile of the junction to the east, and three moose have been killed within 1/2 mile to the west. All told, 30 moose have been killed in the past decade within one mile north of the WY 390 / WY 22 intersection and one mile to either side of that junction.
In terms of trends on WY 390, only five moose were killed between 2015 and 2017 (three of the five were hit in the first mile) so we have had a relative respite from the 26 that were killed from 2011-2013. Many campaigns launched simultaneously by citizens and organizations may have helped to reduce collisions along the length of WY 390. The combination of those measures (nighttime speed limits, fixed radar feedback signs, digital message signs, public awareness campaigns) is helpful, even if the small sample size makes drawing direct correlation between any one of those measures and the reduction in collisions inconclusive. The trend along most of WY390 is positive, but the intersection area remains the largest concern. We are also keenly aware of the possibilities and limitations with respect to potential structural measures through that densely inhabited corridor. We need to do what we can, where we can, as soon as we can.
In consultation with WYDOT, recently we decided to change the language on digital message signs to reflect the number of animals hit in July, stressing the severity of the issue to drivers. Many other near-term actions have been discussed, ranging from modifications to the existing reduced speed limit zones to improving sight-lines via vegetation removal to enhanced education campaigns with rental car companies and Teton Village hotels. It is never a bad thing to make people aware of the impacts that driving can have on wildlife, from ungulates to raptors. These collaborative efforts will continue between agencies and partners, spanning the entire Teton County highway network.
Teton County has also just released its Wildlife Crossings Master Plan, and accompanying Action Summary. Unsurprisingly, the WY 22/WY 390 intersection ranks as the highest priority for action. As with all locations, agency and organizational partners discuss immediate opportunities to change things for the benefit of wildlife and human safety. We don’t wait around for a long-term fix if any helpful measure can be initiated today. Some of those near-term options are still being considered for the intersection area. However, given the severity of the issue there and the possibility of much more frequent roadway occupancy by moose (given the proximity of ponds and willows on all sides), the ideal scenario is to separate animals from the highway via wildlife underpasses. The terrain lends itself well to that solution since the road is elevated and the areas of interest to moose are well below the road grade. While fencing long stretches in any direction in that area will be challenging (longer fencing typically increases effectiveness), modest fencing in the immediate area of the intersection should not impair views and serve the purpose of “funneling” animals to the underpasses (probably the best solution). The exact outcome (solution) has not been arrived at given the complexity of the area and many potential options, but it is important for the public to recognize that those discussions are ongoing. The public itself will have an opportunity to weigh in, as WYDOT seeks input on its planned work on the Snake River Bridge and WY 22/WY 390 intersection, slated for 2023.
If you would like to learn more about potential wildlife crossings plans there and across the county, you can access the Action Plan (recommendations of advisory committee) and the full Master Plan at the county website here. Page 7 of the action plan identifies the WY 390/ WY 22 intersection as the highest priority site, and it briefly discusses potential solutions. https://www.tetoncountywy.gov/1639/Wildlife-Crossings
The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and Greater Yellowstone Coalition are tremendous resources for wildlife crossings work. You can visit with them about this issue, as well as the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, at the Alliance’s Summer Block Party at the Center for the Arts on August 29 from 5:30 pm – 9 pm. Come out and tell us what you think! In the end, we just want to ensure that we’re doing the right thing, in the right place, for the safety of people and for the good of wildlife.