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Slow down, save a (wild) life

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It’s been a long day, and all you want to do is get home safe to your loved ones and settle in for the evening.

The light changes at the 5-way. You accelerate past Wendy’s and glance down to change the radio station when suddenly there they are: a cluster of mule deer grazing just feet from the road. One of them lifts its head and steps toward Broadway.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions happen daily in this valley, and in the blink of an eye a creature could die. Not to mention your vehicle could be badly damaged and you might sustain injuries in the crash.

On average 114 mule deer, 35 elk and 15 moose are killed on roads in Teton County every year, according to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Wyoming annually reports an average of 6,000 collisions with big game. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department estimates that those crashes result in anywhere from $24 million to $29 million in personal injury costs annually. That’s on top of the loss of more than $20 million — the estimated value of wildlife killed and no longer available for hunting, viewing or photographing.

With the expiration of daylight saving time, it’s now dark when most people leave the office, and dark hours will eclipse light ones until mid-March.

That’s on top of migration season. And as snow piles up in the mountains and makes travel more difficult, some ungulates head for lower elevations and may linger on or near roads.

The state continues to invest in overpasses, underpasses, fencing and signs. But drivers can do their part too. The most important thing drivers can do is to keep speed in check. Nighttime speed limits are lower: 45 mph in Grand Teton National Park, and 35 mph on Highway 390. WYDOT recently changed the speed limit to 50 mph at any time on Highway 22.

Other tips for reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions include: Stay alert, drive with high beams when appropriate to see more of the road, scan the shoulders frequently, ask passengers to help watch for wildlife and learn where wildlife tend to cross the road. Find maps of wildlife collision hot spots at JHWildlife.org.

One of those areas is Elk Ranch Flats in Grand Teton National Park, where a speeding driver hit and badly injured or killed four bison. A subsequent vehicle killed a fifth.

Whether your cue is a tiny Bambi figurine on the dash or a bumper sticker saying “Give wildlife a brake,” remember that we share this special valley with thousands of wild creatures that also deserve to gather safely with their family units or herds at the end of the day.

This column is reprinted through the Wyoming News Exchange.

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