A new film about the impact of Interstate 80 on big game migration in Wyoming is now available for viewing online.
“400 Miles to Cross: The I-80 Wildlife Barrier,” a 12-minute movie, is available for free streaming at the Muley Fanatic Foundation, www.muleyfanatic.org; Wyoming Migration Initiative, www.migrationinitiative.org or the Migration Initiative Facebook page.
Narrated by Gregory Nickerson, a writer and filmmaker at the Migration Initiative, the film looks at how the interstate severs or barricades migration corridors across southern Wyoming. It also looks at ways Wyoming and other states are tackling the problem. Nickerson partnered with UW grad Leon Schatz on the project.
For the cross-country traveler, I-80’s Wyoming vistas might not seem impressive, especially the long stretches between towns. But Nickerson argues that a closer look uncovers amazing natural history, human history, geology and big game habitat.
“Once you have all the data, the stories become super rich and fascinating,” he said. “We’re trying to make people aware of the fascinating things along the whole corridor.”
Along its 400-mile length in Wyoming, I-80 bisects migration corridors and home ranges of dozens of herds, interfering with their movements and over time contributing to shrinking populations. Animals that try to cross the road are often hit, which is deadly for them and very dangerous and costly for motorists.
“Thousands of animals don’t even try to cross, but you can’t drive down I-80 in the winter and not see roadkill,” Nickerson said.
He said scientists have known about the problem since I-80 was built in the 1960s. More recently, with the help of GPS technology, they have begun compiling data about herd movements.
“People have known that this is a problem for migrating animals for probably 40 years,” he said.
But solutions also exist, demonstrated successfully in Wyoming and other states. The Trappers Point Project on U.S. Highway 191 in Sublette County includes six underpasses, two overpasses and 12 miles of exclusion fencing to direct migrating pronghorn and mule deer. It has virtually eliminated pronghorn mortality on the highway and decreased mule deer mortality by 80 percent.
Nickerson said the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Game and Fish Department have been working for decades on underpasses and fencing, and they’ve identified priority areas for continued efforts.
“We know a lot more know about making these structures work well, how to build the fending and where to locate them because we now have all this data,” he said.
In southeast Wyoming, Nickerson mentioned the Cooper Cove, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow River and Wagonhound areas as stretches where motorists should be extra cautious of migrating wildlife.
Meanwhile, he’s looking forward to public support and agency collaboration contributing to a solution.
“I think Wyoming has an opportunity to really open up some habitat for these amazing migratory herds that we’re fortunate to have,” he said.