For years, state Rep. Sandy Newsome traveled back and forth down the South Fork Road. The scenery along the drive is grand, but she often sees the carnage from collisions with wildlife on the road, …
For years, state Rep. Sandy Newsome traveled back and forth down the South Fork Road. The scenery along the drive is grand, but she often sees the carnage from collisions with wildlife on the road, hitting her share of them through the years.
The Cody Republican is not the only one. The Wyoming Department of Transportation receives nearly 3,000 reports of wildlife-vehicle collisions a year, costing millions of dollars — not to mention the loss of wildlife. The animals can pile up on the sides of area roadways.
“Nobody cleans those up. They just kind of hang out there — even sometimes on the road, I mean, I’ve swerved to avoid them. I’ve also stopped and dragged some off the side of the road, so that they weren’t a danger,” Newsome said.
Actually, the job of cleaning the animals off the road falls on WYDOT maintenance workers, but it’s tough to keep up with the collision rate of about eight per day in the state. And that’s just the reported accidents.
But thanks to new legislation — which Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law last week — someone who hits a deer, elk, moose or pronghorn will soon be able to get a quick tag from the Game and Fish, load the animal in the truck and take it home to the freezer.
“Some of it is for meat, so that’s a piece of it. But the other piece is for taxidermy, collection of teeth and antlers,” said Newsome.
She co-sponsored and fought for the House Bill 95, especially a regulation requiring those who choose to harvest the resource to take the entire carcass, not just the good chunks.
“You have to take the whole animal. You can’t just be on the side of the road processing an animal,” Newsome said.
There are rules. The law is set to go into effect July 1, but that’s a bit deceiving. Gathering roadkill will only become legal when the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and WYDOT finish setting the regulations aimed at safety and logistics.
It could be several months after the July deadline, said Rick King, chief game warden for Game and Fish.
“The process of developing rules and regulations will take a little time. We’ll draft a regulation, put it out for public comment, and then we’ll take it to the commission for their approval,” King said.
The law allows the two departments to decide where it’s too dangerous to stop on the side of the road to collect animals and how to go about acquiring a roadkill tag.
“Right now we’re looking at processes and procedures that other states have put into place,” King said. “And we’re also looking into some of the electronic processes that those states use — because one of the concerns that we do have is the workload of our field personnel.”
Most collisions happen at dark, King said, so imagine being the game warden receiving several late night calls asking for guidance.
There also have to be checks to make sure people don’t start taking advantage of the system. While few folks are dumb enough to aim their expensive vehicle at an animal, King said the department is aware that some may attempt to illegally shoot an animal out of season and then apply for a roadkill tag — hoping nobody will notice the hole in the carcass.
Newsome predicted that the Game and Fish and WYDOT will do “a great job” in crafting the rules for the program.
“I’m confident that they will make rules that are reasonable and that allow people to harvest that resource,” she said.
Regardless of attempts by the two agencies to consider a plethora of scenarios, there’s always going to be someone trying to “game” the system, King said. Yet, the law — which state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, pitched for years — has some advantages, King said.
“I think if this results in somebody being able to put some good nutritious wild meat in their freezer, then that’s certainly a positive,” the warden said.
It will also mean less scavenging by other animals on the side of the road. Many animals — including birds of prey like eagles — are hit while consuming fresh roadkill. And it will mean less work for WYDOT maintenance crews that are already stretched thin, said WYDOT spokesperson Cody Beers.
“There’s quite a bit of carnage out on our highways,” he said last week.
Beers said it’s possible that the new bill will result in WYDOT having to pick up fewer dead animals.
“... and, you know, it’s not something that our guys enjoy,” he said. “All kinds of nasty things run out of those animals when you’re trying to pick them up and get them in the back of a pickup truck. The smell is not good. I’ve seen our guys lose their lunch on the side of the road while they’re picking up animals.”
The permits to harvest roadkill will probably cost around $8 and the expediency needed to get the animal off the pavement and home to clean is being taken into account as the departments look at structuring the new regulations.
Safety is the biggest concern, Beers said. The interstate may be off-limits, as well as some stretches of two-lane roads with 70 mph speeds.
Meanwhile, WYDOT continues to work to reduce the number of road-killed animals.
The state has been building both over- and underpasses near migration routes, lowering the speed limits after dark in areas thick with animals crossing the road and putting up new signage where helpful. There are several areas in the Big Horn Basin that have proved to be areas of great concern, Beers said. U.S. Highway 14-A between Cody and Powell is one of the worst, he said, “especially around the Corbett Bridge.”
WYDOT has been working hard to get across the message to slow down.
“Just from a highway safety standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to simply slow down at dawn and dusk to keep yourself from running into animals,” Beers said.
Among local lawmakers, Rep. Newsome, Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams, R-Cody, and Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, voted in support of HB 95, while Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Rep. Jamie Flitner, R-Greybull, voted against it.