In the less than three months since an environmental group set up motion-activated wildlife cameras around Targhee Pass, they’ve captured more than 5,000 images of wildlife, mostly in the vicinity of U.S. Highway 20.
Yellowstone to Yukon is an environmental group formed to promote connectivity of wildlife populations from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem up to the Yukon Territory in far northern Canada. The group has pushed for the construction of wildlife passages as part of improvements to the Targhee Pass area along Highway 20.
U.S. Program Director Kim Trotter, who is based in Driggs, said the group was inspired by similar efforts in Wyoming, which helped convince road builders there to include wildlife underpasses along U.S. Highway 191. The Casper Star-Tribune reported in 2013 that those underpasses had essentially eliminated wildlife collisions along that highway, and that the underpasses were being used by about 30,000 big game animals.
“It’s been a really interesting project,” Trotter said. “We didn’t know what we would find in the cameras. Sure enough, there are all kinds of animals that use the Targhee pass area, including lots of animals we didn’t expect.”
Trotter said the 14 cameras, which were deployed in December, have captured photos of foxes, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, elk, deer, moose, owls and raccoons. She said most of the cameras are positioned within 100 feet of the road, but others are stationed further in the woods so they can capture animals in the surrounding area.
“These areas next to Highway 20 are really well-used by wildlife,” Trotter said.
Trotter said the cameras have also documented many instances where deer were discouraged from crossing Highway 20 due to road traffic or simply fear of the road itself.
“It’s hard to say exactly what the patterns are, but we have a whole series of photos where deer walk toward the road, and then a car passes and the deer spooks and turns around,” Trotter said. “This is an area that’s extremely significant for wildlife.”
Trotter said the cameras could also provide the Idaho Transportation Department with information that could help it site wildlife overpasses well. Some of the cameras have captured lots of photos of wildlife along specific game trails, while others have had relatively few. One camera accounts for nearly half of the photos captured.
“In a lot of these cameras, a lot of species are using the same pathways,” she said.
Trotter emphasized that the project doesn’t constitute a scientific study and can only provide anecdotal evidence, though the group is working to provide more systematic data on wildlife migration patterns using the cameras. Trotter said the group has hired an expert consultant to catalog the pictures.
She said the Idaho Master Naturalists group contributed significant volunteer efforts to get the cameras properly installed and positioned.
Reporter Bryan Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.