Good op-ed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle about efforts to establish wildlife crossings along Hwy 89, which bisects Paradise Valley and is the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park…
It is not uncommon to hear Montanans refer to driving certain wildlife-dense sections of highway as “running the gauntlet.” Those of us who have hit wildlife remember the incident each time we pass the location — our stomachs in our throats and our heads on a swivel.
According to a 2017 report, there is a one in 57 probability of hitting a deer on Montana highways. We rank second in the U.S. for reported deer-vehicle collisions, and damage from wildlife collisions costs Montanans $212 million a year. Nationally, the annual cost of wildlife collisions is $8 billion. This includes costs associated with human injuries and fatalities, vehicle repairs, towing, lost hunting value, and more. As more Americans move into rural and suburban areas, and wildlife populations expand, collisions and their associated costs will only increase.
Beyond putting people, property, and individual animals at risk, roads also inhibit wildlife movement. They fragment habitat, isolate populations, and disrupt migrations.
Fortunately, there are solutions. Research shows when crossing structures and appropriate fencing are built in areas frequented by wildlife it reduces wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 97%. Wildlife crossings work. These projects are expensive, so in 2021 the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $350 million over five years to fund wildlife crossings. In December, the Federal Highway Administration announced the first round of grant recipients. Two Montana projects were among the 19 selected — one submitted by the Montana Department of Transportation and the other by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.