Snoring Moose and Building Safe Roads

As the tranquilized moose snored away, GYC Wildlife Program Coordinator Chris Colligan supported her massive head and monitored her breathing while she was fitted with a new GPS-tracking collar. A former Wyoming Game and Fish (WGFD) employee, Chris is no stranger to working with wild animals. What is relatively new to Chris is all the progress being made to incorporate wildlife crossings on roads around the state of Wyoming and beyond. 

GYC Wildlife Program Coordinator Chris Colligan and WGFD biologist fit a GPS collar on a tranquilized cow moose. This effort is part of a study to track the movements of moose in the area near the intersection of Wyoming Highway 22 and Highway 390. (Photo Mark Gocke, WGFD.)

GYC Wildlife Program Coordinator Chris Colligan and WGFD biologist fit a GPS collar on a tranquilized cow moose. This effort is part of a study to track the movements of moose in the area near the intersection of Wyoming Highway 22 and Highway 390. (Photo Mark Gocke, WGFD.)

On this day in late March, Chris was assisting the WGFD to fit GPS collars on one of ten moose near the Wyoming Highway 22/390 intersection outside of Wilson, Wyoming to better understand movement patterns in this critical habitat zone. The data collected will help inform the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) where wildlife underpasses should be installed as part of the Snake River Bridge replacement project scheduled to begin in 2022.

We know these crossings help make roads safer for humans and wildlife, decreasing wildlife-vehicle collisions by as much as 90% in areas where they have been built. The Teton County Wildlife Crossing’s Master Plan identifies this busy intersection as the number one priority in the area. Thanks to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s annual wildlife-collision report, we know this intersection is becoming deadlier. Since 1990, 114 moose have been hit and killed within 2 miles of this intersection, with 50 of the fatalities occurring in the last 10 years. This site is in the Snake River corridor which provides critical moose habitat.

Moose are in decline through much of its range in the United States and in western Wyoming due loss of habitat, increased temperatures, parasites, diseases, and predation. Moose in Teton County are also experiencing increasing pressure due to more traffic on our roads. Current traffic counts show 18,000 cars traveling Highway 22 each day on average, and peaking near 26,000 cars on a busy summer day -  a number that rivals traffic on major roads like Interstate 80!

A Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation graphic shows deadly areas for moose in Teton County, Wyoming. (Photo Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation.)

A Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation graphic shows deadly areas for moose in Teton County, Wyoming. (Photo Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation.)

WYDOT has been working with GYC and our local partners - Wyoming Game and Fish, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, and the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance - to formulate a plan for the upcoming highway improvements and bridge replacement project. GYC is a member of an advisory committee tasked with determining the specifics (size and number) of wildlife crossings at this site. Early designs for the site include four wildlife crossing underpasses.

Colligan has spent years working with our partners to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, leading the way for GYC to be a trusted voice in creating safe roads for both humans and wildlife. He has sat on advisory committees for both WYDOT and Teton County which helped guide the placement of wildlife crossings on Highway 89 south of Jackson, Wyoming and crafted the Teton County Wildlife Crossing’s Master Plan. He knows that keeping these moose alive comes with unique challenges and, as he stated in a Jackson Hole News and Guide story covering this project, “It’s not like some of the other places in Wyoming where we try to get wildlife crossings. There’s not a long-distance migration route we know of, and there’s not large tracts of public land. These are animals right in and around people, and we’re trying to find a way for them to navigate this landscape.”

Moose living in close proximity to humans along the Snake River corridor. (Photo Mark Gocke, WGFD.)

Moose living in close proximity to humans along the Snake River corridor. (Photo Mark Gocke, WGFD.)

Thank you WYDOT, WGFD, and all of our local partners for recognizing the importance and success of incorporating wildlife crossings when updating our roads. GYC is committed to continuing to support this project, and other efforts to make our roads safer – for people and our iconic wildlife. 

— Mac Dukart, Communications and Engagement Associate