There are an estimated 6,000 big game animals killed by vehicle collisions each year in the state. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and other agencies have been trying to find ways to reduce that number for years. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Game and Fish's Deputy Director Angi Bruce to talk about the department's new initiative and what it means for animals and drivers in the state.
Angi Bruce: It's called Wildlife Crossings: Keeping Wildlife and Drivers on the Go. We rolled out this initiative as part of the governor's signing of his first migration corridor executive order. And part of that initiative is communicating the importance of it, but then also challenging the public to act as well. And so the governor came out with the 2020 challenge, and that is the goal of reaching 2,020 license plates by the end of the year. And the conservation license plates were put into place by legislators two years ago that allow you to purchase a license plate where the majority of the funds go to this initiative and go to future projects that will benefit wildlife and roadways.
Catherine Wheeler: What are the major things that you'll be focusing on through this? Are there specific projects that'll be coming off of this?
AB: Our department has been working very closely with the Department of Transportation on our top statewide projects. We have identified the Dry Piney project, which is part of Highway 189, as a top priority. It's one of the highest collision areas in the state for mule deer, and the project will install seven to eight underpasses that will allow for safe crossing passage under Highway 189 in a 28 mile stretch of the highway. And we're predicting that through that effort, that collisions will go down 80 to 90 percent once those underpasses are built.
CW: What are some of the other high priority places or projects?
AB: This state does have 240 statewide projects identified. Those can be found on our website. There are all sorts of different projects at different scales. We've also taken a close look at those 240 and came up with a top list of statewide large projects-just around 40 for those. In addition, we've also looked at the feasibility of those top 40 and come up with a top 10 to kind of focus and concentrate our fundraising efforts around.
CW: What are some of the options that Game and Fish or the Department of Transportation can use to kind of lessen the lesson the accidents that happen?
AB: There are a suite of possible solutions. We do know that some solutions can be as effective as 80 to 90 percent in some stretches. For instance, providing safe passage for big game either, like I talked about earlier, under the highway or with an overpass over the highway. But we also know that those are not an option everywhere due to various reasons, maybe geographic reasons. And so we look at all the tools in the toolbox and different things that we do are different fencing options. In some cases along Interstate 80, there's very high fences about, six foot high, that actually produce a barrier. And in this case, when we have those, what I would call blockage fences, they keep the big game from entering The highway which is a very good safety measure for motorists. But what they do, as well, is they block the deer, antelope and other big game from getting to other habitats and so it limits their ability to move around. So sometimes those fences can work and sometimes they're not an option.
CW: You've mentioned a little about increasing public involvement or public awareness. Can you explain what you mean by that?
AB: Some of these solutions that I've been talking about are really putting the onus on the wildlife so we can move the wildlife safely across the highway. But part of that is education back on the citizens of Wyoming and those motorists who crossed Wyoming on our highways, is making them aware, making them aware of where these hotspots, your priority areas are where there is lots of big game movement, especially at certain times of the year or certain times of the day. And so it's putting the onus back on the driver to be more cautious, maybe slow down in this area. And educating them on the importance of doing that and how they can have an impact not only for wildlife, but on their safety as well. Another one, that we talked about how we can engage them, again, is through the purchase of a conservation license plate. Not only is it contributing to this effort, but what I have noticed from my own license plate is I get a lot of people looking at it and asking about it. So it brings awareness to the initiative by having these plates out there and visible.
CW: Angi Bruce is the Deputy Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Thank you, Angi, for taking some time to chat with me about it.
AB: Oh Catherine, thank you so much for reaching out to us. This is a topic that we love and is dear to our heart. So anytime.
Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at email@example.com.