JACKSON, Wyo. — The number of grizzly bears killed by vehicle collisions on a stretch of highway in northwest Wyoming exceeds the estimate officials expected when a redesign of the thoroughfare was approved more than a decade ago.
At least two federally protected, threatened grizzlies have been run over on a 38-mile stretch of U.S. 26/287 over Togwotee Pass in the past two years.
That is double the permitted unintentional killing of a single grizzly along the road that underwent a seven-year reconstruction at a cost of more than $100 million. The work was completed in 2012 and resulted in a wider and straighter road that was supposed to be safer.
When so-called “incidental take” estimates are surpassed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service customarily produces new documents that permit a higher number of the affected threatened or endangered species to be killed.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, which is in charge of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s grizzlies, has not yet received instruction to revise a 2003 document that assessed the effect of the highway redesign on grizzlies, according to Nathan Darnall, Fish and Wildlife’s Wyoming Ecological Services Endangered Species Act specialist.
Last June an adult sow grizzly was struck and killed along the highway near Blackrock Creek, according to an online mortality database. Another grizzly, a cub, was killed by a vehicle in the early morning hours on July 20.
The highway from Moran Junction to the Shoshone National Forest boundary had zero reported grizzly deaths in the decades leading up to the road construction, which took years to complete, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported (http://bit.ly/2b1Vjlg ).
Wildlife officials say grizzlies have used habitat along the high-elevation highway with increasing frequency. Partially in response to photographers lining the highway, the Bridger-Teton National Forest imposed a 100-yard viewing limit for bears in the Jackson and Blackrock ranger districts.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation has placed portable message signs in the area, warning passers-by of the bruins’ activity.
Federal wildlife managers at the moment are weighing whether to yank Endangered Species Act protections for the Greater Yellowstone region’s 700-plus grizzly bears.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.