Deer on a road

It can happen on just about any road or highway in Montana. You are driving along, enjoying the lovely Montana countryside, when out of nowhere a deer, antelope, elk, maybe even a moose or a bear suddenly appears in front of you.

Who hasn’t had that experience? If you were lucky, it was a near miss and the only thing impacted was your nerves.

But many people aren’t so lucky. According to the insurance industry, Montana ranks second in the nation in wildlife-vehicle collisions. It’s a serious issue having a significant impact on the safety and well-being of both people and wildlife.

In light of this problem, local, state, federal and tribal governments, along with non-governmental organizations, came together for the first Montana Wildlife and Transportation Summit in an effort to better understand challenges and opportunities for reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.

It was an exciting, landmark event. Highway engineers, conservationists, scientists, elected officials and many others sat down together to share information and ideas, explore strategies for reducing accidents, and craft recommendations for moving forward with on-the-ground action.

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The good news is that there are proven ways to safely ensure wildlife movements across highways. The summit featured case studies of successful wildlife passage projects around the West and here in Montana, demonstrating the very real feasibility of significantly reducing accidents.

Without doubt, some daunting challenges face these efforts; perhaps the biggest being financial constraints. But many examples were cited of public-private partnerships that successfully generated the funds necessary to build wildlife crossing structures or install other features that keep people and wildlife out of harm’s way.

The principle summit organizers — Montana Department of Transportation (MDT); Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP); Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage (MSWP); and the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) — know that this is just the beginning of a long-term, comprehensive dialogue to effectively address transportation and wildlife issues. The final report on the summit includes a “Pathways Forward” section that outlines actions already in progress and recommendations for future actions that MDT, FWP, MSWP, WTI and others will pursue.

Montana is blessed with a rich wildlife legacy that is the envy of the nation. No one better understands the need to sustain this legacy — even as we build and maintain our transportation infrastructure — than the people who organized and attended this event. What is needed now is broad public support to make certain that these recommendations for reducing wildlife related accidents and improving public safety become a reality.

Take a look at the summit report (www.mdt.mt.gov/other/webdata/external/planning/mwt/MWTS-Report.pdf). See what was discussed and what is being proposed. Think about the role you can play in implementing these actions. It will certainly benefit our wildlife, and possibly the safety of you and those you love.

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Dennis Glick is a member of Montanans for Safe Wildlife Passage.

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