For out of state drivers and perhaps a few locals alike, the idea of spending millions of dollars to encourage migratory deer to travel under the road instead of across may seem ridiculous.
But with more than 1,000 deer per month on average utilizing the Nugget Canyon project in it’s first calender year, it’s easy to see just how quickly the idea may pay for itself in dead animals, property damage and even human fatalities.
“They [the underpasses] were installed with all the fence completed in October of 2008, so we’ve been through one calender year,” stated John Eddins, District Engineer for District Three who joined the Independent from his office in Rock Springs. “We of course did a research project with cameras on all seven of the underpasses. Since December 2008 to Sept. 30, 2009, over 13,000 mule deer had gone through the underpasses.”
While it’s always an estimate as to just how many animals are killed in the segment of the Lincoln County highway, Eddins says on average the number is significant. Any regular driver between north and south Lincoln County would agree.
“It [fatality rates] goes up and down, but on average over the last ten years, in the neighborhood we would pick up about 200-300 deer per year.”
While the project is now in use in recent memory, the project dates back to the 1980’s coincidentally with Eddins’ father in the legislature.
“This goes way back in time but way back when Boyd Eddins was in office, there was a resolution passed with the Wyoming Game and Fish (WG&F) and WYDOT to keep deer from getting hit between Sage Junction and Nugget Canyon,” Eddins added. “There were some experiments done at the beginning of this decade which developed a level of comfort and determined that deer will use tunnels that are 10 foot high, 20 feet wide and from 50-60 feet long. Then we started designing a project to do that from 2003 until 2005. From there, the hurdle was how are we going to pay for it. In 2007, our state legislature graciously allowed us to use appropriations to build and pay for these underpasses. It would not have happened without the support of the state government.”
Eddins also feels the huge numbers of dollars saved with the reduction in dead deer makes the project worthwhile.
“Anytime you reduce the number of wildlife collisions by more than 150 percent, it’s likely to have prevented loss of life and a big time reduction in property value.”
In addition to the large number of deer that continue to utilize the underpasses, the cameras located in the tunnels also showed that roughly 400 elk, 40 antelope, nine coyotes, four bobcats, two badgers and two racoons have used the tunnel.