It used to be that daily and seasonal movements of wildlife were seen as secretive and unpredictable. Elusive and enigmatic qualities of animal behavior are often what evokes our reverence for wild creatures and keeps us curious about them. In recent years, that curiosity has inspired researchers and engineers to develop new ways to track wildlife, particularly species that migrate with the changing seasons, to find calorie-rich food and reach important calving and nursery areas.

Traditional methods to track animals with radio telemetry have been used for decades, but major technological advances have allowed biologists to deploy increasingly sophisticated devices that allow for movement data to be transmitted in real-time. These improvements have led to all manner of new insights about how animals use the landscape and can detail bottlenecks for vulnerability. Among other things, this information is beginning to be used to safeguard wildlife and minimize impacts on wildlife from human activities and public infrastructure.

Using tracking data and other migration knowledge, Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists have worked with Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) for years to advocate and plan for safer highways for big game like deer, elk, moose and pronghorn. Now, a wildlife overpass is being constructed on Highway 21, near Lucky Peak Reservoir.

As a “first of its kind” effort in Idaho, the Cervidae Peak Overpass is an important pilot project. It’s also an apparent signal that ITD recognizes the importance of wildlife as part of their agency’s public safety mission. The agency’s commitment to account for animal movements in highway planning, coupled with significant federal infrastructure funding could prove to be an effective path forward, paying big dividends for Idahoans. 

As our state continues to see record growth and visitation, motor vehicle impacts on wildlife are only going to increase. One of the best ways to make highways safe is to minimize wildlife-vehicle collisions. Well placed structures, either above or below highways, have been shown to reduce wildlife collisions by 80-90 percent. Wildlife-related activities in Idaho bring in hundreds of millions of dollars every year and they’re a huge part of our state’s culture. Investing in crossing projects shows returns on many levels – they save lives, they save money and they save wildlife. We know how to make travel less dangerous for Idahoans and the animals we all love. The Idaho Conservation League hopes that ITD will have an open mindset to crossing structures in other parts of the state. 

Local communities have an important role to play in advocating for ITD to implement more of these projects. We have areas very near the majesty of Yellowstone Park – with all that biological diversity – that are in dire need of highway crossings and unfortunately, for a variety of mostly political reasons, they haven’t happened yet. All over the West, states are recognizing the importance of migration corridors and are adopting statutes and executive orders in support. We’d love to see Governor Little lead Idaho in this important work, as well.

Animals need to move seasonally to find things like food, water and essential habitat. Having safe travel corridors for this is critical to their survival – and highways are the main barrier to this. But, we can make sure both humans and wildlife can get to places they need to go. ICL will use updated migration information to target pinch points for animals and promote smart, effective crossing structures that safeguard wildlife and people. New migration data will also help Idaho tap into new federal funding for crossing projects in priority areas all across Idaho. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make this important work happen. We know how to do this – if there’s a will to do it. 

Cover photo: Courtesy KTVB.