black bear crossing road

Why They Matter

Roads are excellent for connecting people and goods to their destinations, but they can be harmful or even deadly to both humans and wildlife.

  • Montana ranked no. 2 in the nation for wildlife vehicle collisions, according to a 2016 study by State Farm Insurance, with Montanans hitting deer about 13,300 times a year.
  • In the United States, wildlife vehicle collisions were estimated to cause 211 human fatalities, 29,000 human injuries, and over $1 billion in property damage annually.
  • The total number of large mammal vehicle collisions has been estimated at one to two million in the United States and at 45,000 in Canada annually.
  • From 1990 to 2004, the number of wildlife vehicle collisions in the US increased 50% while the total number of crashes has remained more or less the same. This means that wildlife vehicle collisions have not only become more common, but they also represent a growing percentage of all collisions that occur.

Solar powered variable message sign displaying Animals on Roadway

Both humans and wildlife deserve to safely move between destinations. For animals, the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement is called wildlife connectivity.

Reduced connectivity in the landscape is the result of habitat fragmentation. Roads contribute to habitat fragmentation when animals become reluctant to cross highways or when animals are killed trying to cross. The degree of aversion to roads may vary by species, age group, and gender but the causes are similar: dangerous and unsuitable habitat due to road width, high vehicle volume, and high vehicle speed.

Road mortality and habitat fragmentation not only affect individual animals, but they can also impact species on the population level, causing a serious reduction in survival probability.

  • Animals need to move freely between different types of habitat to find food and water, establish territory, reproduce, and migrate.
  • Connectivity allows wildlife to repopulate areas or populate new habitat. This reduces the likelihood that a species disappears from a region and minimizes the potential for inbreeding.

Wildlife fences, in combination with wildlife crossing structures, are an effective solution to these problems. They increase wildlife connectivity, save taxpayer dollars, and reduce deaths and injuries to both humans and wildlife.