By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

In Big Sky, we share our backyard with an abundance of wildlife. From elk, moose and bighorn sheep, to grizzly bears, coyotes and birds of prey, wild animals are spotted in and around our mountain town all of the time.

These animals are lucky that their habitat is relatively road free, but when individuals are traveling from point A to point B, sometimes they have to cross a road. When you drive around Big Sky long enough, you’re bound to see a wide variety of animals that wander into the road.

Defensive driving is a must when you’re traveling in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—or anywhere else for that matter. Wildlife collisions are possible all year long and while some accidents are unavoidable, it’s your job to drive defensively and avoid hitting animals. A collision can be incredibly dangerous to both the animals and occupants in the car.

Here are a handful of eye-opening stats about wildlife collisions in the U.S. from dmv.org:

– A collision with some form of wildlife occurs, on average, every 39 minutes.
– One out of every 17 vehicle collisions involves wandering wildlife.
– 89 percent of all wildlife collisions occur on roads with two lanes.
– 84 percent of all wildlife collisions occur in good weather, on dry roads.
– The average repair cost of a car-deer collision is $2,800.
– Approximately 200 motorists die in the United States each year from car-wildlife collisions.

Whether you’re driving in Gallatin Canyon for an early morning fly-fishing session, cruising up the spur road for a day at Big Sky Resort, or heading south through Yellowstone National Park, you need to be on full animal alert at all times. Slow down and be alert, it can save your life and the animal’s life. Plus, it can prevent costly damage to your vehicle.

Animal-car collisions are scary things that everyone wants to avoid. Here are a few defensive driving tips that can help you avoid hitting wildlife in Big Sky Country:

– Follow the speed limit and read the warning signs.
– Constantly scan the sides of the roads while driving.
– Remember that dusk and dawn are prime time for animals to be active.
– Drive with your bright lights on to help spot animals on the road, but be sure to dim them for oncoming traffic!
– Wear your seatbelt.
– Use extra caution on snowy and/or icy roads.
– Never litter as it can attract animals to the roadway.

If you see an animal:

– Slow down and honk your horn.
– Flash your lights to alert oncoming traffic of the potential hazard.
– Often when you spot one animal, there will be other animals in the vicinity.

A large animal that is injured can be incredibly dangerous. Call 911 and alert the authorities to any injured animals or road kills. If necessary, stay in your car and use flashing lights or flares to alert other drivers of the incident.

Being defensive behind the wheel can save your life and an animal’s life.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works, and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/wildlife-collisions-big-sky/. Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at https://visitbigskymt.com/category/blog/.