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Bridges Discussions Gone Wild

PHOTO: A black bear exiting a wildlife bridge on Highway 93 near Evano, Mont.
PHOTO: A black bear exiting a wildlife bridge on Highway 93 near Evano, Mont.
March 11, 2013

HELENA, Mont. - Building bridges to protect wildlife and people: That's the focus of a meeting in Helena this week that is to start mapping out areas that might be good for wildlife overpasses or underpasses, to reduce highway collisions that harm both people and animals.

According to Bill Hallinan, president of the Wild Divide Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association, it's a topic they want to get serious about.

"The idea was just kind of simmering, and then this fall we were working on travel plans and just noticed how many different highways are criss-crossing the state and breaking up habitat," he explained.

Hallinan said the dream is to identify corridors, such as between Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, and establish crossings so animals could migrate without having to set hoof or paw on a major road. Montana is already home to a few wildlife bridges, including one on Highway 93 on the Salish-Kootenai Reservation.

The federal transportation bill signed last summer has a block of funding available to states for wildlife crossing structures. Hallinan said he hopes the meeting this week will inspire volunteers to help make the crossings happen.

"I thought I'd get the conversation started, and I think it would be a great benefit both to habitat and for people to understand, like where animals are actually moving," he said.

The Federal Highway Administration filed a wildlife-vehicle collision report with Congress last year, estimating that there are up to 2 million collisions each year, which rarely end well for the wildlife, and sometimes result in human fatalities.

The meeting is Wednesday, March 13, 6 p.m., Lewis & Clark Library, small meeting room.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT