GREEN RIVER - New webcams photographed about 800 deer, a few antelope and a bull elk using wildlife underpasses along U.S. 30 in Nugget Canyon in southwestern Wyoming.
The state installed six deer underpasses last summer in its latest and largest effort to assist migrating mule deer cross the busy highway and protect motorists from collisions with big game animals.
The new webcam data is showing the animals are already taking to the tunnels, Wyoming Department of Transportation officials said.
The busy highway lies in the middle of one of the state's largest big game winter ranges used by the 30,000-animal Wyoming Range mule deer herd.
The recently captured images of big game animals using the underpasses seem to confirm the success of the project, WYDOT spokeswoman Theresa Herbin said. Officials had already observed a big drop in vehicle-animal collisions, but the webcams have now documented that deer are traveling through the tunnels.
Herbin said that, during a seven-day period beginning Dec. 16, the new webcams documented almost 800 animals using the six underpasses.
"The images clearly show that they are using them," Herbin said. "Based on the counts from each underpass and how many were passing through it … it's showing they are using it and using it heavily."
WYDOT, in collaboration with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, finished the $3.8 million project in October. It included the construction of 12 miles of fence and the six underpasses.
The wildlife-proof fences line the 15-mile stretch of the highway and funnel the deer into the 12-foot-high underpasses. The six underpasses augment another underpass already in use by big game animals in Nugget Canyon.
Deer mortality in the canyon has been a significant concern over the years and particularly in recent years as the Wyoming Range mule deer herd has declined in number. The risk to motorists is also a huge concern.
About 14,000 mule deer cross the highway at least twice a year during spring and fall migration as they move to and from their winter range.
Game and Fish and WYDOT information from wildlife/highway studies show that, on average, about 130 mule deer have been killed each year in collisions with vehicles since 1990.
Herbin said the majority of deer killed in Nugget Canyon are adult and yearling females. Agency officials worry the mortality rate could have an effect on the Game and Fish's herd population objective of 50,000 animals.