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Deadly Roadkill in Wyoming Kills 21 Pronghorn
Photos courtesy of SkyTruth, by an anonymous photographer.

Deadly Roadkill in Wyoming Kills 21 Pronghorn

Even by Wyoming standards, the scene of a Jan. 15 wildlife-vehicle collision in a Sublette County gas field was shocking.

Game warden Brian Nesvik responded to a report of a wildlife accident to find 21 dead or dying pronghorn strewn along an unfenced service road in the Jonah gas field outside Pinedale.

Nesvik has concluded the collision occurred when a herd of pronghorn inexplicably stampeded into a truck, leaving a scene of carnage possibly unprecedented in the history of western highways. A Pinedale-based investigator for the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, Nesvik said he could find no clues to explain why the pronghorn dashed onto the road.

Because there is no evidence of wrongdoing or irresponsible driving, wildlife and sheriff’s officials believe the collision was a freak accident and expect to file no charges. The collision occurred in broad daylight and the woman driving the one-ton pickup, a gas-field water hauler, was traveling the road’s 35 mph speed limit.

The intersection between big game and vehicular traffic has yielded countless wildlife deaths on Western highways, especially in Wyoming, a state blessed with vast herds of free-roaming big game. The state is home to some 500,000 pronghorn, North America’s fleetest land mammal and the signature species of big game on the high prairies of the Rockies. Still, the Sublette accident appears to be a mind-boggling fluke. How could one vehicle kill so many animals? Nesvik, who has investigated his share of road kills, could only guess.

He speculated the pronghorn were running along the right side of road in the same direction as the truck when they suddenly veered left. With the animals coming from her blindside, the driver had no time to react.

“I’ve seen pronghorn do that, run together in a group and turn really quickly,” Nesvik said. “In this situation, it would have been better if the driver had been going faster.” The investigator looked into other mass-casualty wildlife collisions and found none that involved more than eight fatalities. (Editor’s Note: Other deadly roadkill incidents have come to light since the original publishing of this article. See Brian Maffly’s followup on this story here.)

The pickup’s driver, the only occupant, was uninjured in the incident, but her truck sustained serious body damage. The vehicle, however, had left the scene by the time Nesvik arrived in response to the call.

The body count included 13 does, four bucks and four fawns. Nesvik and a passerby used firearms to kill a few pronghorn that survived the impact. Seven or eight had injuries consistent with having been run over, Nesvik said. The others appeared to have run into the side of the truck.

The accident renews attention on the impact of extensive natural gas development occurring in important winter wildlife habitat administered by the Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Valley. Thousands of mule deer and pronghorn congregate on the wind-blown sage-covered mesas near Pinedale where they find pockets of forage in the high-desert valley between the Wind River and Wyoming ranges.

Industry-backed research has documented an exodus of mule deer from the Upper Green’s crucial winter range near wells and roads. Despite these findings, the BLM is proposing to waive seasonal drilling restrictions on the Pinedale Anticline, a gas field next to the Jonah, and to allow a major increase in development. The agency has already approved a massive “infill” drilling project on the Jonah that will add another 3,100 wells. The mass road kill incident indicates gas-field traffic may be a greater threat to big game than anyone anticipated.

“The fact that this woman seems to have been driving responsibly makes this incident even more significant,” said industry critic John Amos, who heads SkyTruth, an organization that documents environmental impacts over time using satellite imagery. “The BLM needs to require BMPs [best management practices] to minimize roads and traffic in these fields, because current operations are obviously not protecting wildlife.”

(Full disclosure: the author Brian Maffly is a staff member of The Wilderness Society, a national conservation organization working in Wyoming to minimize the impacts of Upper Green gas development on wildlife and other natural values. Brian can be reached at brianmaffly@gmail.com.)

About Brian Maffly

Comments

  1. Colonel Bain says:

    This is a sad occurance!

  2. Marion says:

    I can’t help but wonder what might have been on the other side of them, that might have spooked them, or even the leader, they will all follow the one. I have driven dirt a lot of times and the antelope will run right along beside you. I can’t help but wonder if a snow or dirt devil spun up off the the side and made them swerve.

  3. Pronghorn says:

    “No evidence of wrong-doing”? I guess it all depends on how you define “wrong-doing.” “Despite these findings, the BLM is proposing to waive seasonal drilling restrictions on the Pinedale Anticline, a gas field next to the Jonah, and to allow a major increase in development.” Makes no difference if it’s Greed Over People or Greed Over Pronghorn, they both spell GOP.

  4. Marion says:

    I don’t know if you are at all familiar with pronghorns, but they often seem to be racing vehicles going down dirt roads, no matter what kind, if they are driving slow.
    As for the drilling, do your part to stop it, park your car, turn off the heat and the lights….even….gasp, your computer.

  5. Craig Moore says:

    It’s really sickening this happens. Many antelope are killed by trains.

    http://gf.state.wy.us/services/news/pressreleases/03/11/14/031114_1.asp “TRAIN COLLISION CLAIMS 41 ANTELOPE NEAR GRANGER

    http://www.lajuntatribunedemocrat.com/articles/2007/02/08/las_animas/local_news/news01.txt “Trains poach 200 antelope as they try to escape snow”

    http://www.denverpost.com/ci_5055132 “Wildlife haven in the snow turns deadly”

  6. Marion says:

    Wyoming is rich with wildlife and dawn and dusk are terrible times to drive. When we have a bad winter, and in southern Wyoming there are lot’s of very high winds which cut visibility. Antelope seem particularly to having a lot of animals killed at one time, perhaps because they run in herds and I do mean run, and fast, and can get into trouble so fast.
    I think it is unfortunate that the train article refered to poaching the animals, it looks like they really tried to prevent it. Very deep snows when they happen cause a huge problem for wildlife. I’m sure when it all melts we are going to see some huge die offs.

  7. Marion says:

    I think it is 2 different accidents, but I don’t recall reading about either one in the Pinedale online news and it should have been if it was near the Jonah field. 20 miles NW of Green River should be up around the Seedskadee wildlife refuge. Blowing snow/dirt in that whole area is nasty.
    I lived in Rawlins for 5 years and my front yard had constant snow drifts every winter, so I was glad to move up here, where the wind hardly every blows much.

  8. Marion says:

    I can’t find any information about this anywhere. My eldest son is a heavy farm equipment mechonic and works in the Pinedale area much of the time, he has heard nothing about it up there.
    I clicked on the highlighted skytruth and it came back to this article.
    There is nothing on the Wyoming G&F site, nor the Pinedale site. Brian I sent an email to your link up there to see if you could find a link please. Thanks.

  9. Sage Sam says:

    Sad thing is that the BLM is creating the situation where the same sort of destruction will occur in NW Colorado. BLM just released its draft Resource Management Plan which will allow companies to opt into a program that waives all winter drilling restrictions. They are also going to open up Vermillion Basin to drilling, a 80,000 acre wilderness proposal.

    The gas companies are winning the war on our natural heritage and custom and culture.

  10. Marion says:

    Well sage Same, or whoever you might be, how do you prpose we obtain enough fuel to keep our country moving without drilling? I understand the desire to keep everything like it was many years ago, but it simply is not possible. And please do not use that tired old statement that it is up to the President of the United States to develop an alternative fuel that is cheap, clean, plentiful, does not interfer with anyone’s view, etc.
    I sent emails to G&F and BLM this morning asking about this, but I forgot this is a holiday, so maybe I will get some further information.
    Brian, do you know if this particular photo was maybe taken at the train accident site? The animals appear strung out, and not in piles, is why I ask.

  11. Marion says:

    I just rec’d a reply from Janet Montgomery at http://www.pinedaleonline.com. Teh accident occured during the middle of the afternoon. I can find no mention of the vehicle being a waterhauler for the oild field. It might have been a ranch vehicle.

  12. Craig Moore says:

    Anybody see President Bush coming through for Wyoming antelope? New West (akismet) will not allow a direct link. See the article in the Jackson Hole Star Tribune entitled, “Energy and wildlife: New federal-state effort aims to help Wyo habitat.”

    “Wyoming is the main focus of the Bush administration’s proposed $22 million initiative to restore and protect wildlife habitat in seven Western states.

    More than half the money, $11.5 million, will be directed to southwest Wyoming, where intense natural gas development is affecting the habitat of sage grouse, antelope, deer, moose, elk and other species.

    “The budget proposal reflects the importance of Wyoming nationally,” said Steven Hall, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management.

    Congress would have to approve the appropriation.

    The initiative in Wyoming developed by eight state and federal agencies would help reclaim land affected by natural gas development and study how development of all kinds is affecting wildlife and habitat in the Green River Basin, which encompasses about 15 million acres.”

  13. Sarah says:

    The first thing to do is get the gas and oil companies out of places like this. They should have NEVER had access for drilling here much less increasing the amount of wells. Money is the bottom line to these companies, NOT the welfare of the wildlife that live there. They DO NOT care what happens to animals. Don’t count on George Bush for anything for protection. He doesn’t do what needs done to protect our soldiers in Iraq, much lass the wildlife on private or public lands.

  14. Marion says:

    Sarah, you are living in a dream world. The oil companies do not drill just so they can thrill to the sound of the rigs, they are providing the ful to heat your home and run your car. Drilling will stop if we no longer need those things. They will not make a nickel unless someone buys that fuel.
    This is one of the biggest fields in the country, perhaps the world. Oil and gas are where God put them, not where you want to give permission to drill.
    Everybody benefits from the oil, both the US who owns a lot of the ground and mineral rights, and from taxes, the state from our mineral rights and from taxes, Americans by every drop of fuel we do not have to beg our enemies for. On top of that wildlife benefits because of the money spent by the state, the oil companies, and the feds to restore/improve habitat.
    Wyoming has a multimillion dollar wildlife fund for projects to improve habitat, etc. I do not believe any other state has that sort of thing, despite all of their telling us how to manage our wildlife. Both the state and the feds, as well as the oild companies themselves put far more money into actual wildlife programs than any or all of the so called green animal rights groups combined. Their money goes for lawsuits to force their ideas on someone else, not to accomplish a thing themselves.

  15. Marion says:

    By the way the antelope have been getting killed in similar fashion for eons of time, winter is hard on them. Look at the articles Craig posted, those kills have nothing to do with oil fields.
    Ranchers and other build fences with the bottom wire off the ground to allow the antelope to crawl under, but if the snow is drifted 3-4 feet or more high, they have been known to pile up against the fences and die, becaue they cannot go under. They are perfectly capable of jumping a fence, I’ve seen them do it, they just don’t seem to like to.