Wildlife On Highway 34: Driving UW Football Through Sybille Canyon Is Like “Game Of Frogger”

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By Mark Heinz, Public Lands and Wildlife Reporter
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Chuck Brown of Wheatland remembers hitting a mule deer a few years ago while driving through Sybille Canyon with his wife, Kate. It was the third animal the couple has run over in more than half a century driving to and from University of Wyoming Cowboys football games in Laramie, but considering the sheer number of miles and the amount of wildlife that comes through the canyon, three is a lucky number.

Not all canyoneering fans may be so lucky, and the Wyoming Department of Fish and Game has issued a warning for the route.

“That last one just bounced off the side of the vehicle and fell into the burrow pit,” Brown told Cowboy State Daily. “We don’t know what his final destination was, but the last we saw of him was that he was on the move, jumping.”

The Browns are die-hard Pokes fans and frequently take Highway 34 back and forth between Wheatland and Laramie. It is a popular route for fans coming from Wheatland, Douglas, Casper and other points north of Laramie. During Cowboys football games, the University of Washington’s War Memorial Stadium often has a larger population than many Wyoming cities.

“We’ve been traveling that (Sybille) Canyon for over 50 years” and keeping an eye out for critters entering the road has become a full-time job for Kate, Chuck Brown said.

“I’m lucky to have the woman with the sharpest eyes in the world sitting next to me,” he said. “Usually it’s worse when she’s driving home from games in the dark. Kate just watches and watches, and I focus on driving.”

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The Wyoming Fish and Game Department recently sent out a notice urging Pokes fans to be on the lookout for a herd of Rocky Mountain sheep that like to hang out near the road in the canyon. Sheep are drawn there for the rich forage as football and hunting seasons bring throngs of vehicles through Sybille Canyon.

Statewide, drivers hit wild animals an average of about 6,000 times a year, according to Game and Fish. The agency, along with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, private donors and others, have invested millions of dollars in pending or ongoing projects to mitigate outrage. These include such things as improved roadside fencing and underpasses or overpasses that animals can use to cross roads safely. No underpasses or overpasses are planned in Sybille Canyon.

Chuck Brown said he and his wife are quite familiar with the sheep that Game and Fish warned about. The Bighorns seem to prefer a particular corner just before Morton Pass at the west end of the canyon, he said. They haven’t been much of a problem for the Browns.

“We had to slow down, or even stop at the Bighorns a couple of times,” he said. “But it’s really the deer that we have to be careful about.”

In addition to the incident with the deer bouncing off the side of their bed, they have been in two previous collisions that have caused significant damage to their vehicles and killed the deer.

And heading out the east end of the canyon on the way home doesn’t always mean they’re free, Chuck Brown said.

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“Especially as the crops mature, there will be a lot of play along the highway in the Wheatland Plains,” he said. “Again, it’s mostly deer, but we do see antelope occasionally and have even seen a few elk over the years.”

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