Efforts to educate motorists to watch carefully for wildlife on roads seem to be working in Grand Teton National Park, where officials cite a decrease in the number of animal deaths from vehicle collisions.
Each year, park officials gather comprehensive data on the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) that occur on park roads. This information is examined for trends and patterns and used in a concerted effort to make park roads safer for both humans and wildlife. In 2011, 103 animals were hit and/or killed, which is a decline from a high of 162 animals hit and/or killed in 2010.
“This reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions is welcome news,” said Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott. “We’ve tried for several years to reduce these regrettable accidents through a public awareness campaign, but the numbers remained intractably high. I truly hope this downward trend continues for the safety of both park visitors and our treasured wildlife.”
Grand Teton is committed to reducing the number of WVCs that occur on park roads. In November of 2011, the park implemented a permanent nighttime speed reduction to 45 mph on Highway 26/89/191 that runs from Grand Teton’s south boundary to its east boundary beyond Moran Junction. In addition, the park placed “your speed” flashing electronic signs on either side of the Gros Ventre River riparian corridor.
Ideally, these steps will reduce future collisions on roads that see a higher percentage of wildlife-vehicle accidents. Park staff will continue to monitor collisions and vehicle speeds to assess whether the nighttime speed reduction is effective in reducing the number of WVCs.
Explanations for the 2011 decline in collisions are difficult to pinpoint. Contributing factors could include the reduced speed limit along the eight-mile stretch of Highway 26/89/191 between the Gros Ventre River and Moose Junction during pathway construction, and wildlife avoidance of this area.
Placement of flashing electronic “your speed” signs positioned at the Gros Ventre riparian zone and the permanent nighttime speed reduction went into effect late in the year; therefore, it is too soon to say what effect these changes might have on overall WVCs. While 2011 may turn out to be just a temporary dip in numbers, park officials hope that it represents a continuing downward trend.
In 2006, park managers initiated a proactive education/prevention campaign to reduce the growing number of collisions and associated animal mortalities. This campaign included placement of portable flashing message boards at strategic locations along Highway 26/89/191 that caution motorists to be alert for wildlife, and the placement of stationary signs at wildlife crossing hotspots.
Other measures included public service announcements broadcast on local radio stations, flyers handed out at entrance stations, and cautionary alerts placed in the park’s newspaper.
Despite determined efforts to educate and alert motorists about wildlife on roads, the number of incidents has remained unacceptably high over the past few years. Recent counts include: 145 animals injured or killed in 2005; 115 animals in 2006; 107 in 2007; 102 in 2008; 127 in 2009; and 162 animals in 2010—the highest number recorded since data collection began in 2000. Park biologists believe these numbers represent a minimum because some collisions, particularly when small animals are involved, are never
Data from 2007-2011 reveal that an average of 35 elk, 32 deer, 12 bison, six moose, four pronghorn, two bears and one wolf are killed each year on park roads. In addition, a host of smaller animals such as foxes, porcupines, beavers, marmots, pine martens and sage grouse die as a result of collisions with automobiles. Information collected suggests that vehicle speed, time of day (e.g. dusk, dawn, nighttime) and specific locations (e.g. Gros Ventre riparian zone) may be factors in WVCs.