New report hopes to spur action on wildlife crossings

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New report hopes to spur action on wildlife crossings

Date: 03/11/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: Lorea Zabaleta     Publication: Bozeman Daily Chronicle    

Original Post ➡️

Roads cuts through the open space of Paradise Valley as seen from an EcoFlight to showcase potential wildlife crossings in June. Isabel Hicks/ Chronicle

Yellowstone Safe Passages, a coalition dedicated to improving the safety of people and wildlife on Montana Highway 89, published a comprehensive assessment of wildlife-vehicle collisions along the stretch between Livingston and Gardiner.

The newly completed assessment also offers a framework of short and longer term solutions for the issue.

Wildlife-vehicle clashes and working to mitigate them has been a topic of frequent discussion recently. Multiple studies have been done in recent years on the topic and Montana receiving over $9 million in federal funds last year to go towards wildlife crossings. That funding went primarily toward the northwest region of the state.

According to the report, Montana as a state ranks second-most in wildlife-collision risks with 10% of all reported crashes involving wildlife. The Livingston-Gardiner area experiences five times that number, with wildlife strikes making up half of all reported crashes.

Daniel Anderson, founder and facilitating director of the Common Ground Project, one of the partners in Yellowstone Safe Passages, said there is a lot of work to be done specifically on U.S. Highway 89 that has yet to be initiated. He said they will be leveraging the new report in the hopes of getting millions in federal funding.

The grant cycle is nationwide and highly competitive, so they will be getting aggressive, said Anderson. The Montana Department of Transportation would likely be the ones submitting any grant applications while Yellowstone Safe Passages provides capacity and support.

Anderson said the assessment was something that needed to be accomplished prior to seeking funding.

The robust and data-driven study used more than a decade of data across agencies and smartphone app observations from citizen scientists.

Field technician Michelle Zizian collected additional data to verify and confirm the observations made by citizen scientists.

“It’s been a real struggle seeing the sheer number of dead wildlife along the highway, especially the rare species or newborn animals just trying to figure out their place in the world. Those I’ll never forget. Hopefully the data we’ve collected will lead to fewer accidents and better long-term solutions for wildlife in the valley,” Zizian said.

A unique part of this report is its inclusion of short-term measures. Anderson said all options of what can be done now need to be considered on top of longer-term projects like wildlife crossings which typically have a five-to-ten-year timeline.

Even though the longer-lasting and longer to build projects work best big picture, Anderson said there are short-term options available that have yet to be tried.

“Sometimes it’s not worth waiting for five years when we might be able to try something now,” he said.

These options include variable and temporary message signs to warn drivers and can be adapted to seasonal wildlife changes. The report showed that permanent signs warning of wildlife are less effective than temporary fixtures.

Engaging more effectively across the community to provide upfront information is another short-term approach, he said.

“We’ve taken the better part of four years to engage the community here and bring people into it so it’s not considered this foreign object coming into the community. You’ve got to build trust,” he said.

Yellowstone Safe Passages plans to share findings from the report during community information sessions in the coming weeks.

“With unprecedented funding opportunities for wildlife crossings at the federal level, we hope this assessment will provide a strong foundation for decision-makers and community members to successfully pursue projects that improve safety for both people and wildlife,” said Liz Fairbank co-leader of the assessment and Road Ecologist at the Center for Large Landscape Conservation.