We’re overjoyed to share that The WYldlife Fund, a Nat Hab Philanthropy partner, recently spearheaded considerable efforts to fund the HWY189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project in Wyoming. To say that they were successful is an understatement.

The WYldlife Fund worked hand in hand with the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Game and Fish Department to secure $24.3 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program—and raised an additional $1 million in private philanthropy—to make the dream a reality, saving both animal lives and those of roadway drivers.

Putting the WYld in Wyoming

The WYldlife Fund is a highly effective partner to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. They bring expertise in grant agreements and ensure precise and efficient allocation of resources on the ground to push forward important wildlife projects across Wyoming.

Mule Deer Wyoming

Mule deer © The WYldlife Fund

The nonprofit was founded as a 501c3 in 2019 when a number of private donors wanted to support wildlife causes that aligned with the strategic vision and mission of the Game and Fish Department but realized there was no proper channel for these funds to be accepted and deployed.

Although The WYldlife Fund works closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Game and Fish Department, it operates as an autonomous entity. Donors appreciate that 90% of donations go to wildlife projects, not overhead. In fact, the organization is managed efficiently by just two employees, a nine-member Board of Directors, and Ex Officio Honorary Director, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director, Brian Nesvik.

Wildlife Crossings: A Win-Win Solution for People and Animals

Since its inception, one of the top priorities of The WYldlife Fund has been to help fund wildlife crossing projects. In Wyoming, 15% of all reported vehicle collisions involve big game wildlife. More than 7,000 deer, pronghorn, elk and moose are hit and killed by vehicles in the state annually, costing nearly $50 million per year in damages to vehicles, human injury expenses and loss of wildlife.

Some experts say that you can multiply the number of wildlife reported killed annually by a factor of four. This is due to underreported collisions and animals that are hit on roadways but die well off the roadway due to their injuries and go unaccounted for. Roads can negatively impact wildlife populations by making it difficult—or even impossible—for animals to cross and access the habitat they need.

But wildlife crossings—structures that allow animals to cross human-made barriers (like busy highways) safely—significantly reduce both animal and human casualties, injuries and property damage. These can include new and existing structures, such as underpasses, tunnels, viaducts, overpasses, amphibian tunnels, fish ladders, canopy bridges, culverts and more.

Deer use a wildlife crossing tunnel to safely traverse a roadway

Mule deer are already successfully using wildlife crossings in the Nugget Canyon area of Wyoming. © WYDOT

The first large-scale project The WYldlife Fund helped fully fund was the I-25 Buffalo-to-Kaycee Wildlife Crossing Project, which is now 90% complete and includes close to 20 miles of big game exclusionary fencing to direct wildlife (mainly mule deer) to existing underpasses.

The nonprofit also documented significant wildlife-vehicle collisions with mule deer and pronghorn along a 30-mile stretch of highway in southwest Wyoming. In addition to the human and economic costs, these collisions are disrupting migratory and winter-range movements of mule deer. This prompted the new HWY189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project.

Giving Gratitude

Map of the HWY189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project

HWY189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project © The Wyldlife Fund

Thanks in large part to The WYldlife Fund’s efforts, HWY 189 South Kemmerer Wildlife Crossing Project was funded with $24.3 million from the WCPP, $1 million in private philanthropy and more than $7 million from the state government.

What’s so heartwarming about this project is how many donors came together to make it happen. First, WYDOT and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department applied for a federal grant through the Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program. The WYldlife Fund helped raise nearly $1 million to bolster the federal grant request, along with garnering more than 20 support letters and providing assistance with grant writing, ensuring that Wyoming was awarded major grant funding for this project.

“The federal grant to Wyoming was such a win for wildlife,” says Taylor Phillips, Board Member of The WYldlife Fund and founder of WYldlife for Tomorrow, a signature program of the nonprofit that connects Wyoming tourism, recreation and other businesses that depend on wildlife and Wyoming lands with conservation projects designed to protect wildlife habitat in the state.

But the funding didn’t end there. Next, the Wyoming Transportation Commission, the Game and Fish Commission, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, and other partners contributed an additional $8.8 million (including private donations to The WYldlife Fund). Combined with the federal grant monies, the project is now fully funded!

Nat Hab and The WYldlife Fund would love to give a much-deserved shout-out to the generous private partners who came together through the nonprofit to donate nearly $1 million:

Genesis Alkali Wyoming, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation, the Muley Fanatic Foundation Blue Ridge Chapter, the Muley Fanatic Foundation Headquarters, the NextEra Energy Foundation, Project West, the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation, SOS Well Services, the supporters of the annual Golf for Wildlife Outing, Spire Storage, TerraPower, The WYldlife Fund, the Wildlife Barrier Breakers Coalition, Williams Energy, and the Wyoming Wildlife Federation.

On the government side, a big heartfelt thanks to Governor Gordon, the Wyoming State Legislature, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, without whom this important project could not happen.

“It takes a real team effort to pull off these large-scale projects,” notes Chris McBarnes, president of The WYldlife Fund. “And Wyoming is truly helping lead the way.”

Encounter Wyoming’s Wildlife With Nat Hab

At Nat Hab, we also greatly value the precious wildlife of Wyoming, which we’re thrilled to encounter on our Yellowstone National Park adventures, and we give thanks to the continued efforts of organizations like The WYldlife Fund that aim to conserve the habitats and health of the local fauna.

In the words of Nat Hab’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Court Whelan:

“I really admire the vision that Chris and Taylor have. It’s coming at a perfect time for the tourism industry to continue making a major mark on conservation. The value we add to wildlife is critical and getting more voices, policies and advocates out there. And the more we can protect the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the more we can provide to the local communities in the GYE, and the more future generations will come to know, love and protect this special part of our world…our own backyard!”

Nat Hab travelers pose in the snow in front of Old Faithful in Yellowstone

Nat Hab travelers in front of Old Faithful on our Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari. © Jeremy Covert

Want to experience Wyoming’s wonderful wildlife for yourself? Join us on our small-group Hidden Yellowstone and Grand Teton Safari to see the state’s elk and bison, moose, bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, bald eagles and, of course, black bears, grizzlies and wolves. For those who want an even stronger focus on wolves, we offer both an Ultimate Wolf and Wildlife Safari and a Yellowstone Wolf Quest Adventure.

Learn more about The WYldlife Fund or support their work at thewyldlifefund.org.