Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park sees more vehicle-animal crashes

June 7, 2011, 1:11 pm

Mark Gocke drove north on U.S. Highway 89 toward Moran in the early morning 10 years ago in the late fall. It was late November, and Gocke hoped to station himself for elk hunting before the morning sunlight lit the valley.

He passed Antelope Flats beginning a series of S-curves. As he rounded a bend he saw an elk in the road unable to secure traction on the ice with its hooves. Gocke hit the brakes of his Ford F150 pickup, which began to slide on the road before hitting the elk. The cow elk died. Gocke paid at least $2,000 to fix his truck, and the four wheel drive still doesn’t work quite right all these years later.

Sometimes hitting wildlife is unavoidable. But in the past few years, accidents like Gocke’s are on the rise in Grand Teton National Park, and staff members are working to lower those numbers, said park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

Public education plan

In 2005, when vehicle-animal collisions hit 145, up from 99 accidents the year before, the park created a public education plan, Skaggs said. The plan included new signs to remind drivers to slow down. The number of accidents went down to 98 in 2008.

“We thought we were making some headway,” Skaggs said.

But the numbers began to go up again, with 127 collisions in 2009 and 162 last year.

“It was discouraging that it had bounced back up to such a point,” Skaggs said. “We’re scratching our heads and seeing what additional steps we can take to reverse this trend.”

The accidents are almost always speed-related, Skaggs said. Most of the accidents occur on Highway 89, which is in the boundaries of the park but does not require visitors to pass by a kiosk. The inner park roads, behind the kiosks, have lower speed limits and fewer accidents, she said.