We have some exciting news to share in the world of wildlife crossings! But first, a bit of background:
According to Dr. Corinna Riginos of The Nature Conservancy, the annual number of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) continues to rise over time, with a current five-year average of 7,656 animals per year. The vast majority of these collisions (approx. 5,500) involve mule deer, whose numbers are already in decline. There are currently 21 big-game collisions every day in Wyoming, eight of which involve significant damage to vehicles and/or human injury. The total cost of WVCs in Wyoming average about $55 million per year. These numbers have doubled over the last 15 years, and we can expect them to double again by 2035 if we don’t address the problem. Further, the actual number of collisions and dead animals is likely twice the number that gets counted, due to undetected mortalities away from the roadside.
Since The WYldlife Fund’s inception in 2020, we have made it a top priority to help fund wildlife crossing projects and ensure the safety and survival of wildlife populations most negatively affected by roads. The first large-scale project we helped fully fund was the I-25 Buffalo-to-Kaycee Wildlife Crossing Project. Currently, this project is 90% complete and includes close to 20 miles of big game exclusionary fencing to direct wildlife–mainly mule deer–to existing underpasses.
Earlier this year, The WYldlife Fund began work to raise and pool private funds to support another wildlife crossing project: the HWY-189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project.
There is a particular 30-mile stretch along Highway 189 in southwest Wyoming that has seen significant WVCs with pronghorn and mule deer, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT). These collisions are causing population-level impacts to pronghorn and are disrupting migratory and winter-range movements of mule deer from the Uinta and Wyoming Range Mule Deer Herds. These herds were severely impacted during the harsh 2022-‘23 winter, with biologists reporting upwards of 70% mortality.
This wildlife crossing project would reduce WVCs and promote habitat connectivity for ungulates by directing animals to existing and new wildlife crossing structures. It will also ensure humans can more safely travel this highway, as WVCs are very injurious not only to wildlife, and it will create a plethora of jobs for Wyoming’s workforce. The project is a huge undertaking: to complete it, existing fences will be replaced and five underpasses and one overpass will be constructed. A similar 13-mile-long wildlife crossing project in nearby Nugget Canyon reduced WVCs by 81% while allowing 49,146 mule deer to safely cross the highway during a three-year period, according to Hall Sawyer, Research Biologist at West Inc. We hope to see similar statistics for the Kemmerer project.
Understandably, a project of this magnitude requires an extensive budget. Together, WYDOT and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department applied for a federal grant through the Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program, which is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The WYldlife Fund helped raise close to $1 million to bolster the federal grant request, which was crucial given the highly competitive nature of the grant process. We also helped garner over 20 support letters for the grant application itself.
The partners who came together through The WYldlife Fund to donate this money are Genesis Alkali Wyoming, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Muley Fanatic Foundation Blue Ridge Chapter, the Muley Fanatic Foundation Headquarters, the NextEra Energy Foundation, Project West, the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, SOS Well Services, the supporters of the annual Golf for Wildlife Outing, Spire Storage, TerraPower, The WYldlife Fund, the Wildlife Barrier Breakers Coalition, Williams Energy, and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. We are beyond grateful for their invaluable support.
Now, for the exciting news we mentioned:
The Federal Highway Administration Award is part of $350 million available through the federal wildlife crossing pilot program. Approximately $112 million was allocated during this first round of awards, with WYDOT receiving more than 20 percent of the available funding for the Kemmerer project–$24.3 million, to be exact!
What’s more, the Wyoming Transportation Commission, Game and Fish Commission, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, and partners contributed the remaining $8.8 million (which includes private donations to The WYldlife Fund), making the project fully funded!
“I am thankful and excited to have had the opportunity to work with WYDOT, Game and Fish, industry, foundations, and nonprofit organizations to secure this incredibly important funding source to conserve Wyoming’s iconic wildlife,” said Chris McBarnes, President of The WYldlife Fund. “Wyoming is showing the power of public-private partnerships which will continue to produce positive results for wildlife and advance the overall prosperity of our state.”
It has been a very exciting week for all of us, and we are thrilled to be able to share this news with you. Another win for wildlife!