As the Department of Transportation explores improvement needs for Highway 191, Montana has an opportunity to provide safer passage for people and wildlife
MONTANANS FOR SAFE WILDLIFE PASSAGE
GALLATIN CANYON – The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is developing a “corridor study” of US Highway 191—between Four Corners and Beaver Creek Road south of Big Sky—to address safety, traffic and environmental concerns. This study is an important opportunity for local communities to get involved and elevate public priorities to shape the future of the corridor.
We know how much Montanans value wildlife. Many people have experienced a wildlife-vehicle collision on 191 or know someone who has. There is much that could be done to mitigate wildlife impacts and keep drivers safe in this corridor.
Corridor study underway
The purpose of the study is to identify needs, explore improvement opportunities and develop a long-term comprehensive plan for managing the corridor. A corridor study is a time for early planning that lays the foundation for future highway improvement projects.
Wildlife and transportation
The intersection of human transportation and wildlife movements can result in losses to people, property and wildlife populations. Montana ranks second in the nation for wildlife-vehicle collision rates.
Wildlife struggle to meet their survival needs when roadways impede or discourage them from traveling in order to find food, mates or other needs. However, there are improvement opportunities that have proven to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and increase the ability of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife to move between habitats. Such improvements could include underpasses, overpasses and animal detection systems.
High use in an ecologically valuable corridor
Highway 191 connects two of Montana’s fastest-growing communities—Bozeman and Big Sky. The narrow corridor bisects wildlife habitat within the northern reaches of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The corridor is frequently traveled by local residents, commuters, emergency responders, truck drivers, tourists and many types of recreationists. As local communities continue to grow, so too will traffic, safety and ecological concerns on the highway. The current average daily traffic volume in the corridor ranges from just under 6,000 vehicles to over 17,000. MDT forecasts of traffic conditions predict that by the year 2040, average daily traffic volumes could range from 10,000 to 30,000 in the corridor.
Wildlife concerns in the 191 corridor
MDT’s data indicates that wildlife-vehicle collisions are the most common crash type in the corridor, accounting for 24 percent of all known crashes in the past 10 years. Whitetail deer represent the vast majority (90 percent) of roadside carcasses collected in the corridor, but other carcasses have included mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and black bear.
In a 2016 study of wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots in Montana, the ten-mile stretch of 191 just south of Four Corners was ranked the second riskiest section of highway in the state. Another evaluation of transportation issues in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem distinguished the 191 corridor as an irreplaceable and vulnerable ecological area.
The area around 191 serves as a refuge for animals like elk, moose and bighorn sheep, while also providing habitat connectivity for wide-ranging and rarer species, including grizzly bear, wolverine, lynx, mountain lions and wolves. Grizzly bears have a sustained presence in the Gallatin and Madison Ranges, which also form part of an important corridor linking the Yellowstone Ecosystem bears to bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
Traffic volumes greater than 4,000 vehicles per day can create barriers to animal movement. xi The projected traffic volumes in the 191 corridor could fragment core habitat for multiple wildlife species and lead to increased wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Decision-making is happening right now in our own backyard that will impact Montanans, visitors and wildlife for decades to come. Don’t miss out on this safer passage for both people and wildlife should be a planning priority for the Highway 191 Corridor Study.
Submit a comment here or participate in one of MDT’s upcoming virtual public meetings on July 28 at 11:30am or 5:30pm, to discuss the Corridor Study. You can preregister for one of these meeting times at the Corridor Study website.