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Deer Migration Study Could Help Reduce Vehicle Collisions

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More than 150 people die each year and 290,000 are injured in wildlife-vehicle collisions nationwide. (Don DeBold/Flickr)
More than 150 people die each year and 290,000 are injured in wildlife-vehicle collisions nationwide. (Don DeBold/Flickr)
 By Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY - Producer, Contact
March 8, 2021

EVANSTON, Wyo. -- The Wyoming Game and Fish department is gearing up to put GPS radio collars on some 50 Uinta mule deer in southwestern Wyoming.

Biologists hope the collars will provide new and robust data revealing deer migration activities, including the risks to animals as herds encounter and cross Interstate 80 and State Highway 189.

Bill Rudd, project manager and cofounder of the Wyoming Migration Initiative, said the study should give wildlife managers the tools they need to keep deer populations strong, and help make Wyoming highways safer.

"It helps us understand the risk that deer face as they cross some of the highways in southwest Wyoming, but also the risk that motorists face," Rudd explained.

There are some 12 to 14,000 Uinta Mule Deer in southwest Wyoming and parts of Utah, and in winter they travel in groups of between 20 and 50 deer.

Researchers will use the collars to track what time of year animals encounter highways, and where, to inform efforts to mitigate deer mortalities.

An estimated 6,000 Wyoming big game animals are killed each year in vehicle collisions. Nationally, more than 150 people die and 29,000 are injured annually in wildlife collisions.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department projects that collisions could drop by 80 to 90% with the addition of animal underpasses.

Jeff Short, wildlife biologist for the department, said the Highway 189 section of the Uinta migration corridor is next on the agency's list for developing projects that can reduce risks for both deer and drivers.

"Possibly fencing the highway off, creating underpasses and or overpasses to try to facilitate deer movement," Short outlined. "So the timing of this study is really important."

Short noted data collected this spring will be used for decades by biologists and wildlife managers.

But he added it doesn't come cheap, and is outside the agency's standard budget.

The study is a collaboration between Wyoming Game and Fish, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, the University of Wyoming, where Rudd's initiative is based, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Knobloch Family Foundation, and the Muley Fanatic Foundation.

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