Safe Passage for Wildlife in Jackson Hole
Driving south on U.S. Route 89/191 from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, you’ll hug the outer edge of Gros Ventre Wilderness and the National Elk Refuge before entering the world-famous Jackson Hole. And if you can somehow resist the urge to stop in Jackson, Wyoming, you’ll soon follow the Snake River, filled with rafts and drift boats, as it winds away from the towering mountains of Grand Teton National Park into the Hoback Mountains.
A dream of a drive, to be sure, but not so much if you happen to encounter a massive bull elk or moose on one the highway’s tight turns.
Animals frequently cross this highway, and for good reason. Surrounded by mountainous habitat in every direction, the low-lying valley offers respite from steeps slopes and a smorgasbord of food options along its many rivers and streams.
As more people are drawn to visit this stunning landscape, both tourist traffic and that of commuting workers means increased vehicle traffic along its main roadway, which further fragments prime wildlife habitat and puts both people and animals at risk due to frequent highway collisions.
If there was ever a top candidate for new wildlife crossing structures, this is it—a world-renowned natural area surrounded by protected habitat.
That’s why several Y2Y partners, including the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and others—have been working together to improve wildlife movement along key stretches of the route.
The multi-year effort, called Safe Wildlife Crossings for Jackson Hole, is encouraging innovative ways to help wildlife safely get across the highway at strategic locations where they have been known to cross frequently in the past.
As part of its ongoing expansion of the south part of Highway 89/191 between Jackson and Hoback, the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is installing six main underpasses, several culverts for smaller animals and even some fish passage crossings, as well as fences to help funnel wildlife away from the highway and toward the crossing structures.
To identify the best locations for these crossings, WYDOT uses a wide array of data, including known hot spots for wildlife-vehicle collisions and migration corridors. And several groups, including Y2Y, have come together to instigate a pre-construction monitoring effort, which involves remote cameras snapping pictures of wildlife at key crossing sites. The data and images gleaned from these cameras will further inform design considerations for all wildlife crossing structures.
Briana Bode, a contractor for Y2Y, has spent the last few months sorting and cataloguing thousands of these images, and deleting the ones that don’t involve wildlife. “I’ve seen a huge variety of wildlife in these photos, including elk, pronghorn, moose, black bears and coyote,” she says. “Some of the more unusual ones include otters and beavers and even a great horned owl.”
The remote cameras will continue to monitor the crossing structures post-construction as well in order to evaluate their use and overall effectiveness.
With this new network of crossing structures in Jackson Hole, partners in the project hope to replicate the huge successes we’ve seen in similar projects in Montana’s Highway 93 and Canada’s Banff National Park, where wildlife-vehicle collisions have been reduced by nearly 90 percent.