Roads, People, & Wildlife: There’s Too Much to Lose
Although a necessity for travel in the 21st century, roads create significant obstacles to wildlife movement and fragment important wildlife habitat. As our local and tourist populations grow, we see significant increases in traffic, perpetuating the need to add more lanes and roads to our local transportation system. Unless we implement more effective mitigation measures, the rate of wildlife-vehicle collisions will steadily increase as animals are faced with wider, busier roads. Our records indicate an average of 194 deer, elk, and moose are killed on highways in Teton County each year, a number that is projected to exceed 500 by 2020.
These accidents usually cause significant damage to vehicles, threaten human safety, and sometimes result in human fatalities. In economic terms, wildlife-vehicle collisions in Teton County cost over $1.2 million each year
After compiling wildlife-vehicle collision data from several sources and analyzing it spatially, researchers identified 22 ungulate (deer, moose, and elk) and 3 large carnivore (black bear, wolves, and mountain lion) hotspots, or specific locations where roads significantly impeded wildlife movement and resulted in large numbers of collisions. GIS specialists conducted a habitat connectivity analysis to identify potential high quality movement corridors for ungulates and large carnivores across roads in Teton County. This was critical for prioritizing mitigation based on the current condition and long-term viability of movement corridors.
The study also provides a thorough review of innovative techniques used around the world for mitigating the impacts of roads on wildlife. There are three general categories of mitigation: modification of driver behavior, restriction of wildlife access to roadways, and wildlife crossing structures. Often, the most effective and cost-efficient options included combinations of mitigation measures. After assessing effectiveness, cost, and constraints associated with each mitigation measure, we recommended potentially viable mitigation options for wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots in Teton County. Since Teton County is undergoing major road reconstruction, now may be the most cost-efficient time to build crossing structures at appropriate wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots.
The Roadway and Wildlife Crossing Study provides the essential tools to make Teton County’s transportation system compatible with wildlife. It pinpoints locations where human and wildlife traffic converges and recommends effective mitigation options for specific stretches of road. However, it is ultimately up to the road engineers, county officials, and the public to use the information in this study to make informed choices concerning roadway development in Teton County.
Download the Jackson Hole Roadway and Crossing Study, Teton County, Wyoming
Why Not Feed Wildlife? For the Safety of People and the Welfare of Wildlife
Many people who love wildlife assume that feeding helps them to survive harsh winters. Instead, these efforts put the animals at risk of dying or being killed. Animals that are fed grow accustomed to human activity and lose their fear of people. These wild animals may become bold and aggressive, or even dangerous to people and pets.
Even though people may feed high quality food, some animals’ digestive systems cannot tolerate supplemental feeding. In 2001, Wyoming Game and Fish officers euthanized an unprecedented 30 bears in the Jackson/Pinedale region alone. The majority were killed because they associated people with food or had received food rewards. In June 2004, a young black bear was euthanized after getting into bird feeders and garbage. “We’ve hauled off a lot of dead animals with a full belly!” (Bernie Holz, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Regional Supervisor)
Feeding unnaturally concentrates animals, leading to the spread of wildlife disease, increased mortality of animals on roads, damage to surrounding vegetation, and disruption of seasonal migrations. Each year, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WY G&F Dept.) responds to numerous such incidents and the number has increased steadily over the years.
Concentrations of deer or elk have attracted predators such as mountain lions into residential areas. “While attacks by cougars on people in Teton County have not occurred, we will assuredly invite one by bringing lions into more contact with people by feeding deer.” Dr. Joel Berger, Ph.D., Wildlife Conservation Society Teton Field Office.
Feeding Is Against Town And County Regulations
Regulations state: No person shall knowingly or intentionally provide supplemental feed attractants to the following animals, unless specifically authorized by an agency of either the State of Wyoming or the United States of America: antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, moose,mountain lions, mountain goats, bobcats, black bears, grizzly bears, raccoons, foxes, lynx, wild bison, wolves and coyotes.
Supplemental attractants are defined as any human food, pet food, hay, forage product or supplement, grain, seed or birdseed, garbage, or other attractant made available to the animals mentioned above. It is important to note that this regulation permits the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to authorize feeding if department biologists determine such is advisable. Visit http://www.tetonwyo.org for a copy of the full amendment.
What About Feeding Birds?
The regulations do not prohibit bird feeders, but they do require people who live in Bear Conflict Priority Area 1 to hang bird feeders (including hummingbird feeders) 10 feet off the ground, four feet from anything a bear could climb or stand on and that all bird feeders have a catch basin to prevent seed from getting on the ground. These requirements are in effect from April 1 to November 30 – the time when bears are active. It is important that bird feeders be placed where bears cannot reach them because 40% – nearly half – of all bear conflicts in Teton County are related to bird feeders.
“Unfortunately, bears often become habituated to human food simply because people don’t make the effort to keep their property free of attractants….this landowner had already been warned about their bird feeders being too low to the ground.” Eric Shorma, Bear Management Officer, Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Bear Wise Bird Feeders
Forty percent (40%) of human/bear conflicts in Teton County are related to bird feeders. For a bear, bird seed is a tasty high-calorie, low-effort snack. Unfortunately, bears who become conditioned to getting food from bird feeders often get into other trouble around people’s homes with garbage, pet food, animal feed, fruit trees, or gardens.
Land Development Regulations in Teton County require that from April 1 – November 30, all bird feeders (including hummingbird) must be hung at least 10 feet high and four feet away from any supporting structure and have a catch pan for seed. JHWF is working to educate people about the existence of this regulation and provide information on other ways to enjoy birds around your home.