Buckrail: Teton County News

There have been almost 50 moose killed by vehicle collisions in the past 10 years on Moose-Wilson Road. Last week’s collision near the Aspens marked yet another moose fatality, one that shocked a dozen witnesses and frightened a local driver.

A cow moose was walking through the Westbank Center parking lot on July 23 around 8:45 a.m., heading toward a willowed area between the lot and the bike path adjacent to the highway. Witnesses say a bicycle on the path spooked the moose and caused it to start sprinting across the highway. It was hit head-on by a SUV in the southbound lane. The moose struggled to get up and hobbled off to the side of the road. When Wyoming Game and Fish arrived on the scene, less than 15 minutes later, the warden evaluated the animal, found a broken leg, and dispatched it.

Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation executive director Jon Mobeck said there’s a reason the accident was so jarring to Westbank residents and moose lovers. Moose are very rarely hit during daylight hours: 80 percent or more are hit at night. And the last July moose collision was almost ten years ago in 2009.

“A daylight collision in the summer is very, very rare,” Mobeck said. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Except when it does happen. This year there have been there moose killed in July.

The cow was the 48th moose killed within a 7-mile stretch of road, on Highway 390 from the Highway 22 junction to Teton Village since 2008. Within half a mile of the intersection on Highway 22, six moose have been killed east and three moose killed west in the same time period.

Residents on Moose-Wilson Road are hoping for change.

Heather Berman, a John Dodge resident, drove by the aftermath of last week’s accident. She said something needs to be done to prevent it from happening again and so often.

“Where do we start or where do we begin?” she said. She wondered if hefty fines in place would make people pay attention more and to keep them from speeding. The driver of the SUV in last week’s crash was reportedly not speeding and not distracted when the collision occurred.

“I think there needs to be more awareness,” Berman said. “There are people in a hurry to go nowhere.”

Berman watches the moose that move through her yard daily, and has developed a connection with them. When one is killed so close to home it hurts more than seeing a mule deer or ground squirrel on the side of the road.

“They’re such a special animal,” she said. “I can’t explain it.”

She also couldn’t help but wonder if there was another way to rehabilitate the wild animals after being hit, instead of simply dispatching them.

“I get it if it was an animal killing another animal,” she said. “But it’s us.”

Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation works with local, state and federal agencies as well as other conservation organizations to reduce conflicts with wildlife. The agency was part of getting the speed limits lowered at night on Highway 390 as well as installing migratory underpasses on South Highway 89.

Mobeck said he understands that people are upset about the accident, and there are some minor changes the organization can make—which include changing the wording of the dynamic messaging boards, moving the fixed rader signs, education visitors to Teton Village and clearing vegetation for better sight lines—but long term solutions are focused on the bigger problem: within the first mile of the Highway 390 and 22 intersection.

“To try to change something because of that event, while we definitely consider it, all of our focus shouldn’t be a reactive response to an unusual event,” he said. “We want to temper that with what data shows.”

The data shows that nearly half of all moose collisions have occurred within the first mile after the Highway 390 and 22 intersection. Since 2008, 82 percent of all collisions on 390 have occured in the first 3 miles.

“We know without question the biggest problem area,” he said.

After 26 moose were hit between 2011 and 2013, reduction measures including nighttime speed reduction, four fixed radar signs and multiple digital message boards were installed. Only five moose were hit between 2015 and 2017.

“We have seen a reduction in the number of moose hit,” Mobeck said. “But the problem remains in that first mile.”

Three of the five hit between 2015 and 2017 were in the first mile.

“It’s always a risk when you’re driving through there—for the driver and moose,” he said. The average cost to a driver after a moose collision is $30,000, he said.

Teton County released its Wildlife Crossings Master Plan in May, which outlines the Highway 390 and 22 intersection as the top priority for redesign. The idea, Mobeck said, would be to install underpasses between the various pond areas so that moose could migrate back and forth without having to cross the road. The project could be integrated with WYDOT’s work that is already scheduled in the next few years.

“There will be other things tried,” he said. “But it’s the most viable solution.”

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