The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is known for its vast landscape and thriving and diverse wildlife. It attracts millions of visitors a year to experience Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and the surrounding areas, including the fastest growing micropolitan area in the U.S., Bozeman, MT. As we see more growth in our communities and a rapidly expanding tourism and recreation economy, we are also seeing huge increases in traffic and with wildlife-vehicle conflicts. In this session we will explore how building diverse and meaningful partnerships, taking an interdisciplinary approach, utilizing citizen science and engagement, and using cutting-edge data analysis and tools are allowing us to identify and plan for solutions to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and help maintain habitat connectivity that is critical to the survival of Yellowstone’s iconic wildlife.
There are two main highways that provide access to the northern entrances to YNP, US Highway 191, and US Highway 89. These highways also bisect major river valleys that provide important wildlife habitat, including winter range for elk and mule deer, and have been experiencing massive increases in traffic and extremely high rates of WVCs. Currently, 24% of all crashes on Highway 191 and 50% of all crashes on Highway 89 involve wildlife. To begin to address this conflict, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation has been working with NGO, University, Agency, and community partners to collect and compile data, increase community education and engagement, and ultimately develop comprehensive fine-scale assessments of these two highways to identify and prioritize wildlife crossing structures and other actions to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and maintain or improve permeability across these major highways.
Since 2020, we have been collecting citizen science as well as systematically collected data on roadkill and wildlife on or near these highways using the ROaDS smartphone tool. We have used that data, along with agency collected crash and carcass data, GPS wildlife movement data, habitat connectivity and suitability modeling, community mapping data, as well as information on land use and social tolerance to run spatial analysis to identify the areas with the greatest need to reduce collisions and ensure connectivity. We then conducted site visits with an interdisciplinary Technical Advisory Committee to develop recommendations and prioritize the most important places to seek investment for projects on the ground.
In 2022 we finalized the assessment on Highway 191 and initiated a similar study of Highway 89. Throughout 2023 we will be working with our partners to move the top priority projects forward to keep people and wildlife safe and allow the abundant wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone to be able to make the critical daily and seasonal movements they must complete to survive!