By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – Five organizations gathered on the morning of April 6 at the Wilson Hotel to offer the Big Sky community updates on wildlife, traffic and potential impacts of recreation on the Gallatin Canyon.
The latest Eggs & Issues event, hosted by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, was well-attended with over 60 people in-person and more on Zoom. There were three featured presentations covering ongoing initiatives impacting Big Sky’s treasured Gallatin River corridor: an assessment of wildlife movement and habitat connectivity, Gallatin River restoration efforts, a Big Sky Climate Action Plan and carpooling incentives.
Elizabeth Fairbank and Abigail Breuer with the Center for Large Landscape Conservation shared their work with the Montana State University Western Transportation Institute on the US-191 Wildlife and Transportation Assessment. The assessment aims to improve knowledge of wildlife and road safety along U.S. Highway 191, Montana Highway 64 and the surrounding area.
According to Fairbank and Breuer, roadways create barriers in the landscape that hinder or prevent wildlife crossing and disrupt habitat connectivity. The hope is to use data on wildlife movement patterns gathered by the assessment as well as traffic data from a Montana Department of Transportation Corridor Study to pursue funding and solutions like wildlife overpasses, underpasses and fencing.
To aid in this effort, Fairbank and Breuer encouraged attendees to use an Interactive Webmap and the Roadkill Observation and Data System, or ROaDS, app which crowdsource wildlife data that will inform the ongoing assessment.
Up next to the podium, Emily O’Connor, conservation director with the Gallatin River Task Force, and Wendi Urie, Bozeman Ranger District recreation program manager with the U.S. Forest Service, talked about recreation and the Gallatin River.
The task force partnered with the Forest Service following a 2015 Gallatin Canyon River Access Site Assessment on different projects to help provide sustainable access to the Gallatin River and protect and restore the ecological integrity of the river.
One of these partnership projects is the Upper Deer Creek River Access River-Access Restoration project, which was completed in May last year. The project created sustainable river access points for rafts, a kayak slab launch and an accessible fishing platform as well as planted 380 riparian trees and shrubs along the river.
To round out the morning, Lizzie Peyton, community engagement director of Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization, and Matthew Madsen, research associate with the Western Transportation Institute, discussed their efforts to reduce traffic and carbon emissions in the Gallatin Valley.
Since its establishment in 2020, Big Sky SNO has worked to make local events more sustainable through recycling and composting stations, completed a Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory, started a Climate Action Plan and partnered with the transportation institute on the Big Sky One Less Car Initiative.
In partnership with GoGallatin, Big Sky SNO’s One Less Car Initiative encourages commuters to Big Sky to carpool by providing incentives. Madsen detailed GoGallatin’s wider efforts to support sustainable commuting, which also includes the GoGallatin Challenge which runs through the month of May.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions following the presentations sparking a discussion about how all these partners can unite behind a cohesive effort to make Big Sky more sustainable, reduce commuters and protect wildlife.
VP of Operations and Events with the chamber Caitlin Quisenberry said she thought the event was successful and it highlighted some important issues along the Gallatin River corridor and U.S. 191.
“There are great partners who are working on fixing [these issues],” Quisenberry said. “I think it’s really exciting to think about how those partnerships can get layered for the most impact.”