MDT, wildlife officials looking to reduce grizzly bear roadway deaths

Posted at 3:55 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 18:39:11-04

MISSOULA – The Montana Department of Transportation and wildlife management agencies are still looking for some solutions after a year that saw a record number of grizzlies killed on the region’s roads.

There were 51 “known and confirmed” grizzly fatalities last year, some from human interaction and some from natural causes. The big concern is that 17 bears were killed last year after being struck by vehicles.

“The concerns with transportation have long been in place. We’re always worried about anytime that we have vehicle-wildlife collisions, that’s a real human safety concern for us. But it’s also a population and grizzly bear concern for us,” said Randy Arnold with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) subcommittee is making that development last year a high priority, and for the first time this week in Kalispell, the MDT is now a member of the panel to help work on the problem.

It’s long been a partnership with the state and federal agencies to work with Montana Department of Transportation and we’re really glad to have them on our NCDE subcommittee. And in the future we expect transportation issues to be something that we address more regularly,” Arnold said.

Grizzly Bear Habitat Sign
There were 51 “known and confirmed” grizzly fatalities last year including 17 bears that were killed last year after being struck by vehicles. (MTN News photo)

“They’re not always very easy to solve. Solving those transportation issues can be very, very expensive and complex. Trying to figure out the best use of money and where you’d put that money to reduce that potential for collisions between wildlife and vehicles,” he added.

Arnold says the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have already been a key partner in the science of building wildlife crossings over the past year and has good success along the Highway 93 Corridor — that gives all the agencies a good base to build from.

“If they were simple issues we would have solved them already. The most complex of those issues are the ones that are remaining. And it really is that we can’t ensure safe wildlife passage for every wild animal on every road section,” Arnold told MTN News.

“It’s extremely expensive. So trying to make sure that the resources that we do have go to the spots where the bears are going to use them is our real focus,” he continued.

The NCDE panel continues to discuss additional ways to prevent human-bear conflicts, not just on the roads, but with grizzly education programs to get residents living around the Northern Divide, Flathead and Rocky Mountain Front to take measure to keep from attracting bears into more populated areas.