Northwest Montana Has Most Dangerous Stretch of Highway for Wildlife Collisions

Study finds stretch of Highway 93 near Flathead Lake has highest rate of wildlife-vehicle accidents in state

By Tristan Scott
Whitetail deer are seen in a field off Whitefish Stage Road. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

The most dangerous stretch of roadway in Montana for wildlife-vehicle collisions is on U.S. Highway 93 on the northwest side of Flathead Lake, a recent study commissioned by Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage found, recording 357 carcasses on a 10-mile stretch of highway during the fall months between 2010 and 2015.

Researchers analyzed nearly 37,000 carcasses collected on Montana’s roadways in that five-year period, and estimated that Montana motorists have a one in 58 chance of hitting a deer, elk or moose in 2016, representing a 9.1 percent increase over last year.

The 10-mile stretch of Highway 93 between mileposts 94 and 104 ranked first on the group’s top-10 list of most treacherous roads for accidents with wildlife, while a section of Highway 191 between Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park ranked second, with 242 carcasses recorded.

According to the group, more than 1 million wildlife-vehicle collisions with large mammals occur each year in the United States, resulting in more than 200 human fatalities and 29,000 injuries. The total cost of the average deer-vehicle collision has been estimated at more than $6,000, and costs are even higher for other large animals — more than $17,000 for elk and $30,000 for moose.

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

Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage is 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 the Montana Department of Transportation.

Collisions with wildlife, as well as injuries to vehicle occupants, have increased in Montana in recent years.

Nearly 3,000 wildlife-related crashes were reported to law enforcement in Montana in 2015, of which more than 200 resulted in injuries.

The actual number of wildlife-vehicle collisions is likely significantly higher, according to the group, because as many as half of wildlife-vehicle collisions are never reported.

According to a recent analysis by State Farm insurance company, Montana now ranks second highest in the United States for risk of vehicle collision with a large animal.

The six ungulate species considered in the analysis represented 97 percent of all wildlife carcasses in the database. White-tailed deer was the most frequently recorded species, accounting for 67 percent of wildlife carcasses, followed by mule deer at 25 percent. The numbers of elk, pronghorn, moose, and bighorn sheep carcasses were much lower.

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