Top 10 high-risk zones for wildlife – vehicle collisions identified


A new study has identified the top 10 high-risk stretches of highway in Montana for wildlife-vehicle collisions during the fall wildlife migration. 

“Fall is a glorious time of year in Montana” said Renee Callahan, co-author of the study. “Unfortunately it’s also the time of year that you are most apt to see a deer, elk, or other ungulate in your headlights. We want to alert drivers of this very real danger.”

The “High-Risk Zones for Ungulate-Vehicle Collisions during Montana’s Fall Migration Season” report was commissioned by Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage, a coalition of organizations advocating for innovative solutions for reducing wildlife-vehicle accidents. The Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman compiled the report using information obtained from Montana Department of Transportation.

Every year wildlife-vehicle accidents in the United States cause more than 200 human deaths, 26,000 injuries, and over $8 billion dollars in damages. Montana now ranks number two in the nation in the risk that a driver will hit a deer. 

“The goal of Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage is to reduce these accidents in Montana by 20 percent in the next five years by advocating for wildlife crossing structures and systems and reduced speed limits in high-risk zones,” said MSWP member Don Burgess of the Bitterroot Valley.

The study used data identifing the locations, dates and species of wildlife carcasses found along roadsides. Carcass data were used as a proxy for collision data because of the unavailability of that information. Because of the inconsistent reporting of carcasses, the authors of the report believe that it may substantially underestimate the actual number of animals that have been hit by vehicles.

Researchers analyzed over 36,000 carcasses collected between 2010 and 2015. The carcass rate per mile on all Montana highways was used to identify individual mile markers with exceptionally high risks for wildlife-vehicle collisions. Ten-mile stretches with the highest wildlife mortality rates fell into the category of a “High-Risk Zone.”

According to this analysis, the most dangerous stretch of roadway for wildlife collisions is on Highway 93 on the northwest side of Flathead Lake. For the most part, the rest of the top 10 are also highways in western Montana. But as noted in the report, the absence of eastern Montana highways probably has more to do with the lower number of drivers than it does a lack of wildlife on the roads.

“I was surprised that some of the highways I regularly drive like Highway 89 weren’t on the list,” said Dennis Glick of Livingston and a member of MSWP, “but that just underscores the level of carnage on those stretches that did make the top 10.”

In addition to promoting safe passage for wildlife, the group also reminds drivers that there are several things they can do each and every time they get in their vehicle to avoid these costly accidents, including:

• Use high beams when there is no oncoming traffic.

• Buckle up, drive sober and alert.

• Scan roadsides and ditches for approaching animals.

• Pay special attention to areas around wildlife crossing signs.

• Where there is one animal, expect more to emerge.

• Don’t swerve. Slow and brake to avoid impact.

• If you hit an animal, call Montana Highway Patrol at (855) MHP-3777.



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