Press Release Mar 12, 2024

Yellowstone: Assessment Identifies 7 Priority Opportunities to Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

“The assessment lays exciting groundwork for establishing wildlife connectivity and ensuring pronghorn and other animals safely reach critical wintering grounds outside of Yellowstone National Park" - NPCA Volgenau Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Fellow Pat Todd

LIVINGSTON, Montana — Yellowstone Safe Passages today released a comprehensive assessment of wildlife-vehicle collisions along US Highway 89 between Livingston and Gardiner, Montana. The assessment proposes potential solutions to wildlife-vehicle collisions on a stretch of highway where 50% of all reported crashes are wildlife related—which is five times the state average and 10 times the national average. These collisions have cost the public a conservative estimate of $32 million in vehicle damage over the past 10 years.

US 89 extends the length of Paradise Valley and the Gardiner Basin, connecting drivers to Yellowstone National Park. Wildlife traverse the valley, often having to cross US 89 to reach habitat to the east, west, and south, including Yellowstone National Park. Drivers have hit bison, grizzly bears, elk, deer, moose, and more. These interactions impact area wildlife’s ability to move across the landscape and pose a serious threat to human safety and local livelihoods.

Yellowstone Safe Passages, a locally led effort to increase safety for motorists, teamed up with the Bozeman-based Center for Large Landscape Conservation and Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute to conduct the highway assessment.

Additional members of Yellowstone Safe Passages include representatives from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Park County Environmental Council, and The Common Ground Project.

The recently published US 89 Wildlife & Transportation Assessment details the results of their study, and provides recommendations for possible solutions that could reduce the number of animals struck each year and make the highway safer for drivers.

Daniel Anderson from The Common Ground Project originally convened the partnership in 2019 to explore what could be done about the issue. “For decades, locals have understood that striking wildlife with our vehicles is a costly and dangerous problem. What seemed to be missing was a community-led effort to raise awareness and look to solutions. Since our founding, Yellowstone Safe Passages has gathered an impressive cross-section of partners, and our process is working,“ said Anderson, who grew up in Paradise Valley.

More than 10 years of data from multiple agencies was provided for analysis in the assessment. In addition, residents participated as citizen scientists using a smartphone app to record observations of live or dead wildlife along US 89. During that same three-year span, Yellowstone Safe Passages employed Michelle Zizian as a field technician to travel the highway on a weekly basis to collect additional data and to verify and confirm the observations made by citizen scientists. This effort yielded a detailed record of wildlife-vehicle collisions that not only enhanced, but ground-truthed the larger agency datasets.

“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,” said Zizian.

The assessment overlays data on human safety, wildlife mortality from collisions, wildlife movement, and habitat connectivity to identify the most important areas along the highway for further evaluation by the researchers and an interagency technical team.

The assessment also evaluated all culverts along the highway to identify where improvements may be needed for fish passage. Co-benefits for terrestrial wildlife and infrastructure resilience to extreme weather events such as flooding were also evaluated.

Overall, the assessment identified seven priority sites and a suite of potential solutions for each one ranging from new overpasses and underpasses, to retrofits to existing structures, animal detection systems, and fencing.

Typically, infrastructure planning and execution processes span five years or more. Consequently, the assessment outlines short-term measures achievable within two to five years and longer-term solutions for each priority site.

“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 Center for Large Landscape Conservation Road Ecologist Liz Fairbank, who co-led the assessment.

For nearly 15 years, NPCA’s wildlife-friendly fencing program has helped restore pathways for Yellowstone Pronghorn migrating to winter range North of the park. However, due in part to their risk avoidance of trafficked roadways, pronghorn movement is primarily on the west side of highway US 89.

“The assessment lays exciting groundwork for establishing wildlife connectivity for park wildlife, ensuring pronghorn and other animals reach critical wintering grounds outside of Yellowstone National Park,” said NPCA Volgenau Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Fellow Pat Todd. “As a Yellowstone Safe Passage partner, NPCA supports long-term planning, collaboration, and 21st century solutions to support Montana’s conservation legacy.”

The comprehensive assessment is now accessible online. Yellowstone Safe Passages plans to share key findings to residents of Park County, Montana via community information sessions in the coming weeks. Should Yellowstone Safe Passages opt for wildlife accommodation initiatives, they may seek federal funding.

“Many other states have championed the work of wildlife crossing structures–like wildlife overpasses and underpasses–and are showcasing the power of collaboration and bipartisan support. When people come together, good things happen. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you drive, or who you vote for, wildlife-vehicle collisions affect us all. This is legacy work nearly everyone can get behind,” said Anderson.

For more information on the report and for details on Yellowstone Safe Passages’ upcoming community information sessions visit Funding for the assessment was provided by AMB West Conservation Fund, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Yellowstone Safe Passages.

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Yellowstone Safe Passages is a community of citizens who live, work, and play in the Upper Yellowstone Watershed. Our partners include state and federal agencies, park county elected officials, private foundations, community groups, conservation groups, anglers, and local landowners, business owners, and individuals who are working to enhance the safety of people and wildlife traveling along US 89. CONTACT: Daniel Anderson | | 406.600.5767