• WCS data used to locate overpass and underpass structures that safeguard wildlife and motorists
  • Scientists blog on latest migration news on National Geographic Newswatch

BOZEMAN (November 9, 2011) –Scientists with the Wildlife Conservation Society observed the successful passage of  more than 1,000 migrating pronghorn across Highway 191 at Trapper’s Point in Wyoming; and  are currently blogging about the pronghorn’s first encounter with partially constructed overpasses and underpasses on National Geographic.com Newswatch.

The locations of the crossing structures—meant to minimize the risk of Highway 191 to migrating pronghorn—were informed by years of monitoring data collected by WCS scientists that identified the pronghorn’s preferred migration routes and highway crossing points. The structures are being built by the Wyoming Department of Transportation and are part of a growing national trend where conservation scientists are teaming with DOTs to reduce the negative impacts of roads and associated fencing on habitat connectivity for migrating and dispersing wildlife, while at the same time enhancing safety for the traveling public.

WCS has long studied the 80-90 mile (125-150 km) migration of pronghorn between wintering grounds in the Upper Green River Basin and summering grounds in Grand Teton National Park. Along with the National Park Service, WCS confirmed this migration corridor as the longest known ungulate (hoofed animal) migration corridor in the lower 48 U.S. This corridor, known as the “Path of the Pronghorn,” became the first federally recognized migration corridor in the U.S. Fitting pronghorn with GPS tracking collars, WCS scientists have collected information on the location and timing of pronghorn movements, survival, preferred routes of passage, and impediments to migration such as fences, roadways, pipelines and natural gas development infrastructure—information critical to informing the protection of the path.

The partially completed crossing structures, as well as additional underpasses and overpasses that are planned for future construction along a 13-mile stretch of highway near Trapper’s Point in Wyoming, are intended to circumvent a dangerous problem area in the migration. Pronghorn have been forced to cross the highway traffic lanes at great peril to motorists and migrating animals alike. With the creation of these structures, the number of vehicular collisions with pronghorn, mule deer, and other wildlife will be greatly reduced.

“The construction of these crossing structures at Trapper’s Point is an excellent example of how wildlife scientists can work with DOTs, state and federal land and wildlife management agencies, and others to create safe passages for both people and migrating wildlife,” said Dr. Jon Beckmann, WCS Conservationist Scientist and lead author of Safe Passages: Highways, Wildlife, and Habitat Connectivity. “We can keep migrating animals and motorists off a collision course, even as more transportation corridors are planned, through innovative design informed by scientific understanding of animal movements and behavior.”

WCS Scientists Dr. Jon Beckmann and Renee Seidler are blogging from the field on National Geographic’s Newswatch blog as they collect scientific data and observe the fall migration back to the Upper Green River Basin.

See blog Part 1: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/02/path-of-the-pronghorn-leading-to-new-passages/
Part 2: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/11/09/path-of-the-pronghorn-leading-to-new-passages-part-2/

Pronghorn once numbered an estimated 35 million in the early 19th century. About 700,000 remain today and more than half of those live in Wyoming. The ability to migrate from summer range to winter range is especially important in places that have harsh, long winters such as western Wyoming. The animals migrate to find food, mating opportunities, suitable habitat, and other resources they need to survive.

“The importance of these underpasses cannot be overstated,” said WCS North America Program Director Dr. Jodi Hilty. “They have the potential to eliminate the danger of collisions while helping to preserve a spectacular element of our natural heritage—the longest ungulate migration in the 48 contiguous United States.”

Scott Smith: (1-406-522-9333, ext 116; ssmith@wcs.org)
Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220 3682; ssautner@wcs.org)  

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.