Guest Column

Funding Gives Montana a Plan to Reduce Vehicle-Wildlife Collisions

Economists calculated that the average annual cost of vehicle collisions with moose, deer, and elk totaled $87 million in the state

By Montana State Representatives

Anyone driving Montana’s highways knows the risk of colliding with deer and other wildlife. Hardly a mile goes by without the gruesome reminders of hit animals, broken bumpers, or smashed headlights scattered on the shoulder.

According to the Bozeman-based Western Transportation Institute, collisions with wildlife can be reduced by up to 85 percent with the installation of wildlife crossing infrastructure such as fencing and under and overpasses. Such installations have been effective in several western states, including Nevada and Wyoming, as well as here in Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation and up the Blackfoot River on Highway 200.

New federal funding is available to support such infrastructure through a five-year, $350 million Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program. These funds create an unprecedented opportunity for Montana to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, save human lives, reduce costs to citizens through insurance deductibles, and support robust wildlife populations.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions are costly to Montana residents and communities. A 2020 report by State Farm Insurance ranked our state with the second-highest number of wildlife collisions in the entire nation, and recent collisions in the Paradise, Gallatin, and Flathead Valleys have highlighted the risk these accidents cause to human life. Economists calculated that from 2008-2017, the average annual cost of vehicle collisions with moose, deer, and elk totaled $87 million in Montana. As a state filled with sportsmen and women, it’s also worth mentioning that deer killed by motor vehicles represent over 14 percent of the state’s annual hunter deer harvest, thus reducing hunting opportunities as well.

The Montana Department of Transportation has access to incredible data points showing where these collisions are occurring, providing valuable insight in identifying hotspots and offering solutions to reduce collisions and fatalities on our roadways. By working closely with local communities, the Department has an immediate opportunity to scale up their efforts to address the problem.

With the launch of the five-year federal Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, $111 million of the total $350 million available will be awarded this year alone. We applaud the Montana Department of Transportation for submitting two proposals to this program for potential grant funding: 1) Cougar Creek near West Yellowstone and 2) a planning study along I-90 near Garrison about 70 miles east of Missoula. If awarded, the grant(s) will cover 80 percent of the costs, with a 20 percent match coming from the state. Other western states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah have been active in securing match dollars for these federal grants, and we appreciate the state of Montana for also recognizing this as an urgent and important need that must be addressed.

Montana’s challenge with wildlife-vehicle collisions is significant, but funds are available now that can help our state reduce collisions on our roadways, save human and wildlife lives, and reduce costly repairs. We hope this year’s grant proposals represent the beginning of a long-term commitment in Montana, and we are excited to hear about the department’s next steps to identify, prioritize, and fund projects across the state over the coming years.

Republican Rep. Katie Zolnikov represents House District 45 in Yellowstone County; Democratic Rep. Tom France represents House District 94 in Missoula County; Democratic Rep. Jonathan Karlen represents House District 96 in Missoula County; Republican Rep. Marty Malone represents House District 59 in Park County.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.