It’s a story many of us who live in this state have told, some versions worse than others. It is a unifying experience that we all relate to and one we all wish we could avoid.
Some years ago, Jared and I were returning from a scouting trip, driving down the hill near Willow Creek Road on Hwy 287 just south of Lander Wyoming. It was dark, there was a line of oncoming traffic and their brights were on. We were probably going 60 miles per hour. Time slows down during moments of adrenaline, seemingly to come to a stop as a young mule deer buck came bounding out of the borrow ditch to our right. It took him two steps to reach the road, his body nothing but a silhouette back lit by the oncoming traffic. There was nowhere to go, no time to slow down. I watched in horror as the front right of the truck struck the little deer, flipping him onto the hood and then off to the side – a sickening thunk and crunch – as the tire rolled over him. Screeching brakes and a sharp pull over, dust billowing up from the quick stop. Jared and I sat in silence, stunned, in shock, and struggling to catch up with what just happened. We stepped from the vehicle and looked back, the little deer’s rag doll body lying on the side of the road, if there is any silver lining to this story…it was that that deer died instantly. We had struck him so hard one of his antlers had popped off and was lying on the side of the road, bisecting the white line and lit by the brake lights of our truck. We were lucky. We walked away from the accident uninjured if a little shook up. The deer, however, was not. A young 3-point mule deer, probably no more than 2 and a half years old was taken out of the population and out of the world, his carcass laid by the side of the road for the new two weeks- a stark reminder for us every time we passed.
One in 15 highway deaths in Wyoming is due to a wildlife collision. Between the years 2011 and 2016, 12,197 crashes were reported and WYDOT maintenance crews removed 23,277 carcasses from the roadsides in the same span of time (17,608 of them being mule deer). This is a problem that has a solution and Wyoming Wildlife Federation and many other sportsmen groups and partners came together to work on the first step towards an answer. The Wildlife Conservation License plate, House Bill 0039 introduced by Rep. Stan Blake, passed this last year thanks to the help from passionate members and organizations like Muley Fanatic Foundation and The Greater Yellowstone Coalition. The plates will become available to purchase on January 1, 2019.
Its upfront cost of $150 and a flat fee of $50 each year goes to an account set up by the state for the specific use of funding safe wildlife crossings (under and overpasses), fencing, and signage. The license plate, with its iconic mule deer buck design, will raise funds and awareness of a problem that is very fixable, and take us in a direction towards a long-term solution.
My story is not unique. In fact, I expect many of you reading this have a similar one. Between the nearly $6,500 in repair costs for the truck, the loss of life for a mule deer – of which the Wyoming Game and Fish Department puts a value of $4,000 – the cost of a license plate to help mitigate these risks pales in comparison.
Wildlife, working lands, and rural economies are interdependent, the health of each depends on the health of the others. By protecting our wildlife, we protect our state, our citizens, and our economy. I know I will be filling out the application as soon as it becomes available, and I hope I can count on you to purchase your Wyoming Conservation License plate and help us towards our goal of minimizing both human and wildlife deaths on our roadways.
Here is how
- On January 1, the Wyoming Department of Transportation will make available the application for the license plate HERE
- Click on the plate labeled “Wildlife Conservation” and print and fill out the pdf application and deliver it to your County Treasurer with the appropriate funds ($150)
- You can also bypass the pdf and fill out an available application at your County Treasurers office- they will have them available on January 2nd.
- You can purchase this plate even if your registration is not due, however, if it is due, make sure to get your application in at least 30 days prior to its expiration.