Most motorists who drive a few miles from home are likely to see a dead animal along the road. It could be a dog or a cat, but more likely it will be a skunk, raccoon, rabbit or, most likely, a deer.
Deer are killed regularly on many of Wyoming's highways. Dennie Hammer, Wyoming Game and Fish Information and Education Specialist for the Big Horn Basin, states, "Hundreds of big-game animals were killed in vehicle collisions on Big Horn Basin highways in 2007, according to carcass pickup records of the Wyoming Department of Transportation."
According to Cody Beers, public involvement specialist for the Wyoming Department of Transportation, "In Hot Springs County alone, nearly 342 mule deer, 29 white-tailed deer, and four pronghorn were killed in an 18-mile stretch of Highway 20 between Wind River Canyon and Kirby."
There are other high mortality areas for wildlife, according to Beers. One is a two-mile stretch of road (Highway 16-20) from south of Greybull to near Basin. "In Park County, a five-mile stretch of U.S. 14A between West Cooper Lane in Cody and the Shoshone River Bridge has accounted for at least 67 wildlife vehicle collisions - 64 mule deer and three white-tailed deer were killed."
Tim Thomas, Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist for the Sheridan District, states "Over 400 deer (mule and white-tailed), plus some elk and antelope are killed each year in the Sheridan maintenance district of the Wyoming DOT. These are animals that are picked up off the public right of ways for Interstate 90 and the primary and secondary roads administered by the DOT. The tally does not include those dead animals that are beyond the public right of way nor county roads."
According to Thomas, "This is a bad time of the year. Deer are most active at dawn and dusk. Changing back from daylight savings time to standard time puts many motorists on the road just at dusk. In addition, both mule deer and white-tailed deer are entering the rut. Buck deer are oblivious to dangers and account for many of the collisions at this time of year."
Thomas continues, "The Wyoming DOT has really improved the quality of highways all over Wyoming. Drivers feel safe traveling at higher speeds and consequently are more at risk for collisions with deer and other large wildlife species."
Many crashes are preventable. Speed is often the problem. Clearly, the slower a vehicle is traveling, the easier it is to stop it and avoid road hazards. Allowing a few extra minutes for travel and slowing down during early morning, dusk and nighttime hours is recommended.
One area that the Wyoming DOT is trying to make safer for deer and motorists is Nugget Canyon near Kemmerer. Thomas said that the DOT is constructing high fences along the right of way and coupling them with underpasses for the deer to use. He cites the deer fencing along a stretch of I-25 near Midwest that has dramatically lowered deer crashes there as to how effective such fencing and underpass projects can be.
While losing deer, antelope, and elk to vehicle crashes is regrettable, there are economic tolls as well. The millions of dollars that are spent on collision repairs each year is astounding. "Bumper and radiator guards on pickups and SUVs are big business in Sheridan. It seems that anybody who has lost a radiator or front end to a deer spends a chunk of money on the devices to ensure it doesn't happen again," Thomas said.
While economic loss occurs with every collision, we must remember that occasionally a collision will take a motorist's life. Though it doesn't happen every year in Wyoming, motorists have died, and it happens quite frequently in eastern states.
Over the next month, be especially vigilant when driving at dawn, dusk or night. Take your time. Slow down. Be watchful. Observe the deer crossing signs and be on the lookout for deer.
Wyoming outdoor columnist Bob Krumm can be contacted at email@example.com.