GYC supports wildlife crossings on Targhee Pass

Every fall, two of Yellowstone’s nine main elk herds - the Madison and Sand Creek herds - move from their summer range in Yellowstone National Park to their winter range in the Madison Valley in Montana and the Sand Creek Desert in Idaho. Both herds need to cross U.S. Highway 20 (one of the busiest thoroughfares to Yellowstone) through Island Park, Idaho, to get to their winter range. This stretch of road has been a hot spot for wildlife-vehicle collisions, posing a significant safety issue for humans. Furthermore, increasing traffic has become a barrier for migrating wildlife to get to their winter range, which is crucial to the herds’ long-term survival.

 Why did the elk cross the highway? To migrate to crucial wintering and calving grounds on the other side! A herd of elk struggle to cross a highway.

Why did the elk cross the highway? To migrate to crucial wintering and calving grounds on the other side! A herd of elk struggle to cross a highway.

Although vehicle-wildlife collisions present a significant safety issue for humans, these collisions do not typically have a big impact on individual wildlife herds. However, if a herd is no longer able to complete their migration route, the herd may not be able to reach their winter range or may even stop traveling that route - and those changes can have a big impact on a herd.

There are many common sense and cost-effective mitigation strategies that have proven to be highly successful in keeping people safe and allowing wildlife to migrate. One highly effective option is creating wildlife crossings with fences, which the Idaho Transportation Department is examining for Targhee Pass; GYC supports this solution.

Recently, local advisory votes have been used to influence regional and national level issues. For example, the Fremont County commissioners, where Targhee Pass is located, included a local advisory vote on the ballot to determine whether residents were in favor of wildlife crossings with fences for Targhee Pass. Voting is a great way to get public opinion, but isn’t always a fair way to include all the voices effected by a decision. In this case, many of the seasonal residents in Island Park or voters from outside the county, the region, or the nation couldn’t weigh in. The residents of Fremont County ultimately voted against the idea, and their votes now pose a new challenge for agencies trying to implement science-based solutions. 

In this new era where fear trumps fact, we know our work is more important than ever. As one of the organizations focused on protecting Yellowstone’s wildlife, GYC will continue the hard work to ensure that our iconic wildlife herds can access the habitats they need for their long-term survival. We will continue to share the facts and look forward to the release of an environmental assessment very soon. At that time, we’ll be reaching out to ask you to weigh in on this topic. Yellowstone and Yellowstone’s wildlife are for all Americans. If you have questions about Targhee Pass or would like to support our work on Targhee Pass, please give me a call, or send me an email at amichalski@greateryellowstone.org.

— Allison Michalski, Idaho Conservation Associate   

P.S. Thank you to all of the volunteers and supporters in Fremont County and all of our partner organizations, including Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Citizens for Safe Highways, Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Idaho Trappers Association, Idaho Deer Alliance, Idaho State Bowhunters, Safari Club International, Western Bear Foundation, and Muley Fanatic Foundation, who have been working tirelessly to get out the facts about wildlife-vehicles collisions and the most effective solutions for ensuring our big game herds can continue to migrate.