Last year, the Wyoming Legislature created a new license plate to help fund wildlife roadway crossing projects. Since its inception at the start of the year, 1,007 Wyoming drivers have stepped up to voluntarily opt for these plates at a higher cost that will help fund wildlife crossing projects.
In Wyoming, an average of 2,162 wildlife-vehicle collisions involving large mammals were reported for 2013-2017, accounting for more than 22 percent of all reported vehicle collisions of any kind. However, this number includes only reported collisions — those with significant vehicle damage and/or human injuries associated with them. Records of animal carcasses removed from roads and road right-of-ways by the Wyoming Department of Transportation show that an average of about 6,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions occurred annually over the last three years.
While the plate is named “wildlife conservation,” it could also be referred to as the “safer roads” plate since there are nearly 3,000 vehicles crashes every year involving wildlife. While there are many safety hazards along Wyoming highways, this is one where solutions are possible. Existing projects near Pinedale, Kemmerer, and Baggs have demonstrated the success with about a 90 percent reduction in collisions.
But we need more of these all across Wyoming. A task force identified 41 high priority sections of highways and addressing only the top ten projects would cost around $200 million so funding is a huge need.
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Currently, Congress is discussing a new federal highway bill. I encourage Sen. John Barrasso, as chair of the committee drafting the legislation, to lead his colleagues in ensuring there is a significant investment for wildlife crossing projects.
While hunters feel the impact of the loss of mule deer and other wildlife along our roadways, everyone is affected. All sectors of our economy are impacted by roadway safety – energy, agriculture, education. There is an estimated annual $24 million of lost revenue from wildlife collisions.
A recent UW poll showed 86 percent of Wyoming respondents supported funding roadway-wildlife projects. This is a common sense investment that benefits all people that drive on Wyoming highways.
Wyoming has stepped up to address this problem and now we need congress to do the same and I hope Sen. Barrasso can provide the leadership for wildlife-roadway project funding.