You’ve seen the bright, yellow signs with a jumping deer on it to alert drivers that deer crossing (or leaping as the signs suggest) could happen in the area. The problem with such signage is that they get the attention of drivers in the moment, but five miles down the road where the animals could still be crossing, the typical driver has already forgotten about the threat. The popular road US 91, which takes people to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, has given their best shot at reducing the amount of car/deer collisions by creating six underpasses built specifically for mule deer and pronghorns to cross the road safely.
After seeing how many cars hit and killed wild animals along US 91, the Wyoming Department of Transportation stepped in. Back in 2012, they spent almost $10 million to build two overpasses and six underpasses, as well as deer-proof fencing, near the Daniel Junction of the roadway. Research was done to determine where the deer crossing usually occurred and the structures were installed in these logical locations. Surprisingly, the animals adjusted well to the under and overpasses and everyone called the project a success, as there were fewer instances of cars running into the animals. According to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, since the construction of these pathways, there have been no car accidents involving pronghorn and run-ins with mule deer have dropped by 79 percent.
The team that built these deer crossings also mounted cameras so they could monitor how the animals were adapting to their investment. As more and more animals used the pathways, more joined in, almost like they realized the path they were now taking was safer. In total, 40,251 mule deer and 19,290 pronghorn have used the passageways.
Researchers also discovered that the popularity of the path depended on the animal. Seventy-nine percent of the mule deer who crossed used the underpass, while a whopping 92 percent of pronghorns used the overpass. Researchers had a hunch this might happen, but couldn’t confirm it until these numbers came out. Their hunch was that hoofed mammals like pronghorns, who live in wide open areas and rely on their eyesight heavily, would gravitate towards the overpass because the height advantage would give them a perfect perspective to survey their surroundings. While the overpass was more expensive to build, that type of crossing is a must for certain types of animals.
While a price can’t be put on a wild animal or a human life, the team did estimate, initially, that the project would pay for itself in 20 years. This deer crossing project was such a success, however, they now state that crossings like the ones they built would pay for themselves in just four years. A few minor tweaks to the structure had to be done. Berms are on the passages so the animals can’t see the highway. A few daredevil ATV and motorcycle riders were using the berms to perform stunts, though. The DoT had to put up additional signage, asking these motorists to stay off the structure.
Here’s hoping this signage is more effective than the jumping deer variety.