Press Release Feb 8, 2023

Wildlife Protection Documentary Makes Film Festival Debut

The Boone Docs Film Festival will feature short-form documentary films focusing on or from the Appalachian region, including The Search for Safe Passage, produced by NPCA and Wildlands Network.

Boone, N.C. — Today, the National Parks Conservation Association and Wildlands Network are proud to announce the documentary “The Search for Safe Passage,” will make its public debut at Boone Docs Film Festival.

The film focuses on strategies to protect wildlife in and Great Smoky Mountains National Park from high-speed traffic on Interstate 40 and includes data from one of the largest road ecology research projects ever completed in the eastern United States.

NPCA and Wildlands Network collaborated with award-winning Asheville filmmaker Garrett Martin of VentureLife Films to create “The Search for Safe Passage.” The film follows the winding Pigeon River Gorge near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where wildlife-vehicle collisions are a common and increasingly severe occurrence. It features stunning footage shot from a small plane high above the highway and surrounding wilderness, as well as rare up-close footage of bear, elk, and fox taken from NPCA and Wildlands Network camera traps in the region.

The Boone Docs Film Festival features short-form documentary films focusing on or from the Appalachian region. The documentaries range from four to 24 minutes in duration and explore both the joy and the pain of life in these mountains, allowing the beauty of the region to shine through.

The festival will take place February 25th, 2023 at the historic Appalachian Theatre in Boone, North Carolina. Films will be screened in blocks and filmmakers are invited to attend and take part in a short Q&A following each block of films. More information, including ticketing instructions, can be found here.

“In my view, it’s impossible to come away from this film without feeling compelled to do something to protect wildlife from our backyards to our national parks,” said Jeff Hunter, Southern Appalachian Director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “In the Smokies, Interstate 40 presents an immediate threat to bear, elk, and other iconic mountain wildlife. But it does not have to stay that way. Roadkill is not inevitable. Biodiversity loss is not inevitable. By making smart planning choices now, we can create safe passage for these animals and drivers on our roads for generations to come.”

The film interviews experts working on this issue from all directions, including Hunter, wildlife biologists Dr. Liz Hillard (Wildlands Network) and Bill Stiver (National Park Service), NC Department of Transportation Division 14 engineer Wanda Austin, and Dave McHenry of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

This film comes on the heels of a 2022 NPCA and Wildlands Network study identifying priority areas along I-40 where mitigation strategies such as road crossing structures could be best implemented to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and increase wildlife habitat connectivity for elk, black bear, and other species that live in and around the Smokies.

Wildlife crossings are a proven solution to reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions (in some cases by more than 90%) and promoting connectivity amongst wildlife habitats. The report’s findings provide the North Carolina and Tennessee Departments of Transportation with the data they need in order to incorporate wildlife mitigation strategies into future transportation plans.

“Wildlife need space and access to resources—our research emphasized this again and again,” said Dr. Liz Hillard, Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Appalachian Region at Wildlands Network, and lead author of the research report. “By sharing our vision for connected wildlife habitats throughout the region, we hope to inspire action to protect movement through Pigeon River Gorge and beyond—whether you’re traveling on four wheels or four legs.”

NPCA and Wildlands Network are members of Smokies Safe Passage, a coalition of local, state, tribal, and federal agencies, land managers, conservation organizations, nonprofit park partners and other invested community members, all working in the region of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Smokies Safe Passage coalition strives to find collaborative solutions for safe wildlife passage across Interstate 40 and other area roadways through active participation from regional and community stakeholders. The intended results will be increased public awareness, improved connectivity for wildlife, reduced wildlife–vehicle collisions, and safer driving conditions.


About Wildlands Network: Since 1991, Wildlands Network has been committed to reconnecting, restoring and rewilding North America so that life—in all its diversity—can thrive. Our work is science-based, field-driven, and advanced through policy and strategic partnerships.. For more information, visit

About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit

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