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2-lane road through forest in winter, mountains in background
A section of the study area on US 287. (WYDOT)
close-up of a moose in field
Wyoming is home to many large mammal species such as the moose. (WYDOT)
waterfall in forested area with mountains in background
Another section of the wildlife movement study area along U.S. 287. (WYDOT)

Wyoming Department of Transportation

Wyoming's Moran Junction to Dubois Project Wildlife Crossing Study

It's not uncommon to do a wildlife-movement study on a highway-construction project, but it's highly unusual to conduct such a study on more than a few miles of road and over a number of years. Yet that's exactly what the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) is doing on a 38-mile section of U.S. 26/287 between Moran Junction and Dubois in Teton and Fremont Counties.

U.S. 26/287 follows an east-west course through Shoshone National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest to Grand Teton National Park. It also connects with roads leading to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. The route is a scenic panorama dominated by coniferous forest intermixed with open grassy meadows, sagebrush slopes, aspen thickets, and natural rock outcrops and cliffs.

Elk, moose, and mule deer live and move within the project area. So do their large, free-ranging predators—grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and gray wolves— protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Out of concern that the highway project might disturb wildlife habitat and cause an increasing number of vehicle-wildlife collisions, and in keeping with distribution goals identified in both the Final Conservation Strategy for the Grizzly Bear in the Greater Yellowstone Area and the Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan, WYDOT and FHWA have launched a wildlife-movement study to identify mitigation opportunities and ways of accommodating wildlife crossings into the highway design plans. To oversee the study, a steering committee was formed with representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Jackson Hole Alliance, FHWA, and WYDOT.

Researchers are using roadkill surveys and snow-tracking to learn which species are crossing the highway, where they're headed, how big the group is, what areas they use most consistently, and what kind of vegetation exists at each crossing site. They're using this collected data to compile maps depicting crossing locations and hotspots for mule deer, elk, and moose.

The researchers are also examining existing crossing structures. For example, they're looking at bridges commonly used by mule deer, elk, and moose, to see if these bridges need to be expanded to create more dry-land passage underneath.

The study's snow-tracking and roadkill surveys focus on mid- to large-sized carnivores—species easily detected by these methods. But when tracks or roadkill of other animals are observed—for example, coyotes, badgers, pine martins, and red squirrels—this data is recorded as well.

By identifying wildlife movements along the Moran Junction-to-Dubois section of the highway, the Wyoming study will enable the development of highway design, construction and maintenance criteria for wildlife-crossing structures and habitat linkages. Since the multi-year study covers pre- and post-construction periods, researchers will be able to evaluate these criteria. They'll be able to see how the crossing structures have worked and whether the highway improvements have changed wildlife movement in the corridor. Ultimately, the study's findings will help insure that wildlife continue to have access to suitable habitats south of U.S. Highway 26/287.

For more information, contact Bob Bonds at Bob.Bonds@dot.state.wy.us.

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