SHERIDAN — While the abundance of wildlife in Wyoming is often celebrated as one of the state’s chief assets, it carries risks, too.
“It’s part of living out here that drivers have to keep an eye out for wildlife,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Sheridan-based Public Information Specialist Christina Schmidt.
In October, the Wyoming Department of Transportation released a report highlighting the frequency of wildlife accidents in Wyoming and identifying roadways where they have been especially common. According to that report, Wyoming averaged 2,228 reported wildlife-vehicle collisions per year between 2013 and 2015. However, the report said that the number of animal carcasses WYDOT removed from Wyoming roadways suggests many collisions go unreported and that the average number of collisions was close to 6,000 for those years.
That October report also listed 43 areas where implementing improvements to reduce wildlife-traffic collisions was a high priority. The 35-mile stretch of Interstate 90 between Sheridan and Buffalo was on that list, due to the frequency of deer and pronghorn crossings.
In many cases, collisions with wildlife are unavoidable. But there are still precautions drivers can take to mitigate the possibility of those collisions as much as possible.
Schmidt said some of those precautions are obvious — following speed limits, heeding signs that identify animal crossings — but said there are areas and times of day when Wyoming drivers should be especially cautious.
“Animals can be out and about at any time,” Schmidt said. “But animals like deer especially are going to be more active around dawn and dusk.”
Additionally, Schmidt said animals are more likely to gather near riparian areas, brushy areas or areas near agricultural fields.
Drivers should also take note that many of the animals that cause traffic accidents, deer in particular, are rarely alone.
“I always go with the plus-one theory; if you see one animal, expect another,” Schmidt said. “Especially if you’re traveling and you see one cross the road ahead of you, always slow down. There very well could be a second or third or fourth behind it.”
But again, sometimes an animal will run in front of a car and give the driver no time to respond.
If a driver does end up hitting a deer, Schmidt said their first course of action should be to call local law enforcement.
“We just encourage people to give a really good description of where the accident occurred, so we can get out there quickly,” Schmidt said. “In some places you can be without cell service for quite a while, but knowing exactly where the collision occurred helps us.”
If the animal involved in the accident is severely injured, Schmidt said the driver should also reach out to Wyoming Game and Fish, so it can humanely euthanize the animal.
In some cases, Wyoming drivers will decide to dispatch wounded animals themselves, but Schmidt warned that doing so is illegal and can be unsafe.