Wildlife Crossing Project Move Forward For Sake of Bighorns

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The Nebraska Department of Transportation and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) have secured a $400,000 federal grant to address the issue of wildlife-vehicle collisions in the Wildcat Hills area. The funds are being used to assess the feasibility of establishing crossings for bighorn sheep and other wildlife like deer, elk, and even a wayward moose that have collided with vehicles along this stretch.

Todd Nordeen, the Big Game Research and Disease Program Manager at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said the area’s natural features in relation to the highway works against bighorns. “The geography of this area causes the bighorn sheep to cross the highway frequently. The worst spot is near the Wildlife Estates housing area, and with continued development along this corridor, there is increased potential for bighorn mortalities.”

The Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) provided a letter of support for the project to underscore the need to understand better the roadkill issue in Nebraska and the significance of this small but vital herd on the eastern edge of their range.

“We appreciate WSF support on this and other bighorn projects here in Nebraska. It has proven vital to our work to conserve Nebraska’s wild sheep,” Nordeen said.

According to NGPC officials, they will allocate a portion of the grant to procure ten new radio tracking collars. In addition to the three bighorn sheep in the area already fitted with collars, this data will be instrumental in evaluating the potential success of a wildlife crossing to connect their habitats. The study concludes in 2024 and will evaluate the estimated cost of wildlife crossing structures such as overpasses or underpasses.

The funding for this research initiative was made available through the federal Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, which was established as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This program provides $350 million over five years, bolstering projects that establish wildlife crossings, and aligns with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy.

Greg Schildwachter, a WSF lobbyist, said wildlife collisions are an issue getting federal attention, and this could have a significant positive impact on bighorn sheep. “There’s a lot of attention being paid to wildlife collisions at the federal level, and wildlife crossings are a fairly new and impactful way to deal with them. We know there are numerous areas where this is a significant problem for bighorns, and we are keeping an eye out as projects like this one in Nebraska develop,” he said.

Bighorn-vehicle collisions are a concern in many areas of their range. According to an Arizona Fish & Game Department study cited in Human-Wildlife Interactions, vehicular-related mortalities comprise a significant source of mortality for sheep in some local areas. “Researchers Cunningham and Devos documented that 50 percent of mortalities in the Black Mountains of northwestern Arizona were caused by vehicle collisions.”

A report in Saanich News said a stretch of highway in Radium Hot Springs, BC, has seen an uptick in bighorn deaths over the last decade, with 15 reported in 2021. That’s 15 out of a local herd of around 150.

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