It’s 5am in the middle of winter, hours before dawn. The temperature is -5°F and a Chevy Astro sits on the side of the road, back hatch opened with two bundled figures peering out. Are they ok? Do they need help? This is what people in Thermopolis have been asking, but instead, they should be worried about the deer crossing the road ahead. This mile of highway has experienced up to 35 deer-vehicle collisions per year.
The bundled figures are Alex May and Andrew Johnson, research technicians of the Conservation Research Center (CRC), observing deer behavioral responses to recently-installed wildlife warning reflectors. These reflectors line sections of highway to alarm deer and hopefully prevent them from crossing in front of vehicles.
The CRC just finished its first season of a three-year study examining the wildlife reflectors. With funding from the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration, we are researching how the reflectors affect deer behavior, their effectiveness in mitigating wildlife-vehicle collisions, and the factors leading to collision hotspots.
Fortunately, after 250 hours of in-person nighttime observation and 148 documented deer-road interactions, we have developed an automated video capture system. Next winter’s observations won’t come at the cost of frozen toes and fingers!