Getting to the Other Side: Helping Wildlife Cross the Road

Numbers don’t lie. More often than not, they tell us an important story. Consider the following figures for wildlife-vehicle collisions: At the national scale, these collisions kill as many as over one million large animals, cause hundreds of human fatalities, and lead to more than 26,000 injuries, all at an annual cost of nearly $11 billion. Closer to home in Montana, wildlife-vehicle collisions make up more than 10% of all car accidents, putting the state in second place for the highest rate of wildlife-vehicle collisions in the United States according to State Farm.  According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP), more than 6,000 wildlife carcasses are collected by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) each year.

So what are these numbers telling us? Through the lens of a wildlife biologist dedicated to protecting large mammal migration, the message to me is clear: We have a problem. 

A group of four bighorn sheep walk past an "animal crossing" sign.
A group of bighorn sheep crossing near a road sign made just for them. Photo credit: Candace Noneman

Most of us are familiar with the consequences of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Even if you have never hit a deer you’re sure to have driven past roadkill, whether it was a magpie or a black bear. To address the increasing risks to both wildlife and people, MDT, FWP, and Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage (MSWP) have formed the Montana Wildlife and Transportation Partnership (MWTP). The Partnership’s primary goal is to create a pathway for wildlife accommodation projects along roads to move forward with input from multiple stakeholders. To achieve this, MWTP has published a GIS planning tool and a project program whereby municipalities, citizen groups, organizations, and others can view wildlife vehicle collision hotspots and wildlife habitat needs to plan mitigation projects. Potential projects could include underpasses, overpasses or exclusion fencing to help funnel animals to safe crossing sites. Through the project program, proposals can be submitted for review by MWTP twice a year in the spring and fall.

Learn more about our work: National Wildlife Federation, Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific Region

The planning tool and project program represent a private-public partnership to foster collaboration between state agencies, scientists, local communities, conservation groups, and funders to reduce the risks of collisions and provide opportunities for wildlife to stay on the move. National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies, Prairies and Pacific Regional staff serve on the steering committee of MSWP and assist with review, communications, and planning of potential projects to help people and wildlife coexist across the landscape.

Headline: Pronghorn must move across the landscape to survive and thrive. Discover their journey, and the challenges, across the seasons.