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Mountain West States Green-Light Wildlife Crossings

A wildlife overpass on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana
A wildlife overpass on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana

This time of year the number of vehicle collisions with deer and other wildlife are at their highest, a problem that’s especially acute in parts of the Mountain West.

On Tuesday, officials in Nevada held a summit to discuss how the state can address an issue that each year results in more than 500 reported crashes, costs taxpayers more than $19 million, and kills an estimated 5,000 wild animals, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.

More and more states are building wildlife crossings—overpasses and underpasses—to make roads safer for people and animals. In Nevada, NDOT’s Nova Simpson says the state, in 2010, built its first large-scale wildlife crossing in a migration corridor and in the first four years the state counted more than 37,000 using it.

“So that means 37,000 animals that weren’t on the roadway and out of the way of drivers,” Simpson said.

Nevada now has more than 20 such structures across the state.

Meanwhile, Colorado has several underpasses planned for the state’s ever more crowded roads, on which some 4,000 bears, bighorn sheep, coyotes and myriad other animals died last year, costing the state more than $80 million, as The Washington Post reported last week.

In Wyoming, last week lawmakers advanced legislation that would help expand the state’s existing—and wildly successful—network of highway wildlife crossings, as the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

In Montana, as the Missoulian reports, a 2016 study showed that the 29 crossing structures between Evaro and Polson, north of Missoula, provided 95,274 successful wildlife crossings over five years, including almost 66,000 white-tailed deer.

According to a recent report by the insurer State Farm, Montana ranks No. 2 in the likelihood that a driver will hit an animal.

And in Idaho, instead of wasting roadkill, the state is allowing residents to salvage carcasses and using location data to identify animal migration patterns, as Stateline reports.

Across the country, between 1 million and 2 million large animals are hit by vehicles every year in accidents that kill 200 people and cost nearly $8.4 billion in damages, according to estimates from the Federal Highway Administration.

This year, for the first time, the federal highway bill could include a pilot program to build wildlife-friendly crossings across the country, “which is really exciting,” Simpson said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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