Elk, pronghorn or mule deer could be coming to Wyoming license plates if lawmakers pass a bill creating a “wildlife conservation” plate that would help reduce car crashes involving wild animals in the state.
The plate would be optional and cost interested motorists a $100 one-time fee with funds going toward overpasses, underpasses, fencing and signage to prevent vehicle-animal collisions along wildlife migration corridors.
“It’s not just about saving wildlife,” the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Stan Blake, D-Green River, said. “It’s about human lives.”
The Wyoming Department of Transportation held a summit last April to examine ways of reducing animal-related collisions, which director Bill Panos said at the time accounted for one in 15 fatal crashes in the state, according to KGAB.
Blake said he was approached by several sportsmen and wildlife groups following that spring summit with the idea of creating the new plate.
Impact of collisions
Joshua Coursey, president of the Muley Fanatic Foundation, said his group was one of those to approach Blake. Coursey said the cost of crashes caused by animals in Wyoming totaled in the millions when taking into account the number of collisions, the value of the animals killed and the property damage caused to vehicles.
Coursey said there were 2,874 such collisions in 2016 with average property damage of $4,000 according to an estimate by State Farm. Coupled with Wyoming Game and Fish estimates for the value of animals killed — ranging from $3,000 per pronghorn to $6,000 per elk — that combines for a hefty annual cost.
The Legislature has been hesitant to create new license plates in the state. A bill last year to create a Yellowstone-themed license plate was easily defeated. But Blake said he thinks the wildlife license plate measure stands a shot at passing during the budget session that starts in February this year.
“The sportsmen groups — they’re really gung-ho,” Blake said.
The Muley Fanatics website displays a sample of the prospective license plate and has an area for individuals to commit to buying the plate were the bill to pass. Since that feature went live on Wednesday over 900 people have signed-up, Coursey said.
The website displays one possible version of the license plate that Coursey said was created by WYDOT and shared with Muley Fanatics. The plate shows a mule deer in the snow with the Bucking Horse and Rider image, “WC” letter and room for four numbers. “Support wildlife,” is printed along the bottom of the plate.
But Coursey said WYDOT had other plate samples that featured pronghorn and elk and that the plate’s imagery would rotate every five years, providing the opportunity for many different animals to be shown over time.
In addition to the $100 fee for the conservation plate, motorists would also pay a $30 fee applied to any speciality license plate order.
The Legislative Service Office estimates the bill would generate $50,000 for WYDOT wildlife conservation efforts over the next three years along with $15,000 for the highway fund through the speciality plate fee. The formula used assumes 1,000 conservation plates will be issued between 2019 and 2023 at a rate of 200 per year.
Creating the new plate will require $6,500 in one-time costs for WYDOT.
Coursey said protecting migration corridors for Wyoming’s wildlife is essential for the animals to find reliable sources of food.
“Critters aren’t moving and migrating because they want to see what’s on the other side of the road,” he said.
The new license plate, Coursey said, would be one way that state residents could contribute to keeping those corridors safe for animals.