Crossing the road to get to the other side is a safety hazard for deer and drivers
A week ago Thursday, early in the foggy morning, my friend Wylie and I were traveling west on ID Highway 33 about four miles from Sage Junction when we came upon a police vehicle helping a disabled car that had hit a deer. As we slowed down and switched to the other lane, 11 deer darted out in front of us. We were going slow enough to miss them. A mile further down the road, three more deer crossed the road in the thick fog. We slowed down even more.
Just after noon on the way back to Rexburg, we counted four deer that had been killed on the road from Sage Junction to Beaver Dick Park. I called the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to report the deaths and to try to find out what was going on because all the deer were crossing from the south to the north.
“It could be that the deer are moving north to get to better winter range,” Jacob Gray, a wildlife biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game said. “This last summer we had several fires south of 33 and east of Market Lake that destroyed some pockets of large sagebrush that the deer use, not only for food but also for warmth during the cold.”
Gray also commented that the deer south of Highway 33 may be moving because of human recreation in that area. The area north of 33 is closed to human entry until April 1 to protect the wintering big game. The area to the south is open for recreation and is used heavily, especially on weekends.
“Idahoans have bought into these closure areas to protect the big game in the winter,” Gray said. “We get a few people that will drive past the closure signs, but it is patrolled heavily to keep those people out.”
The warmup several weeks ago, followed by the heavy fog and freezing temperatures, crusted the snow in some areas making it difficult for deer to get down to their food sources.
“These deer that winter on the south of Highway 33 have traditionally moved back and forth across the road and the fires may have increased their movement,” Curtis Hendricks, the Regional Wildlife Manager for the Fish and Game said. “The conditions for the wintering deer in the Upper Snake Region are good, but are getting worse. We need warmer weather to burn the snow down a little to allow the deer to find better food.”
The worst area for the wintering deer is in Teton Canyon. Several hundred deer that were in the Green Canyon area have migrated north into the canyon surrounding the Teton River between Teton City and Teton Valley.
“They have moved to the south where the sun and wind have kept the snow depth low,” said Hendricks. “The predicted warm up this week could help out.”
Fish and Game authorities have added more wildlife crossing signs along Highway 33 to alert drivers of the deer danger west of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. Most of those deer that have been killed are mule deer, but drivers should beware of the dangers of the White-tailed deer near creeks and heavy willow areas.
Large herds of antelope migrating across Highway 33 from Mud Lake to Arco also present potential danger for speeding vehicles. Attentive driving and lower speeds will help preserve the wildlife and vehicles during this critical period of animal movement.