Follow the link for a brief survey on Wildlife Crossing Structures:

Buffalo Field Campaign is committed to improving the quality and safety of wildlife crossings along US-191. This highway bisects a critical migration corridor running through the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). As the human footprint expands throughout the western United States, migratory ungulates such as elk and bison face an increasing number of obstacles that inhibit their ability to roam freely. This is an ecological issue interfering with the GYE’s populations of bison, moose, elk, deer, and more (Kauffman et al., 2022). Globally, the populations of migrating ungulates are in grave decline. An important step to prevent this loss of natural movement in the GYE is to secure seasonal ranges and safe passages for wildlife (Harris et al., 2009).

The health of the GYE depends on migrating animals. Yellowstone’s plains bison are a keystone species, their grazing, rutting, and migratory behavior benefits grasslands as they move across the landscape. Their activity influences and generates the annual spring plant growth that all GYE herbivores and foragers depend on (Geremia et al., 2019). One of the many barriers to the Yellowstone bison’s ability to migrate is busy highways like US-191. We are working to protect and sustain these pathways for not only bison, but for all the moose, grizzly bears, elk, wolves, and so many other native species that use these same routes.

update Jackson Doyel Photo wildlife on road

The best path forward is the implementation of wildlife crossing structures along US-191 to ensure ecological connectivity and protect drivers. The Center for Large Landscape Conservation recently published an assessment identifying areas that would benefit from wildlife crossing structures. These include active animal detection systems (ADS) that alert drivers in real time when wildlife is present, and/or wildlife bridges that will keep animals off the road altogether. Teepee Creek, Cougar/Duck Creek, and the Madison River were among the 11 areas identified (Fairbank et al., 2023). The Cougar Creek bridge already has plans for increasing its height to create a wildlife underpass below it, but more structures are needed to safeguard this entire stretch of highway. The infamous 13 bison killed by a single semi-truck collision occurred less than a mile north of the Madison River on US-191. The question is not whether there is merit for more crossing structures in the Hebgen Lake Basin, but rather where they could go and what they could be. This is where BFC’s decades of field operations comes in.

Every field season BFC trains volunteers and interns for field patrols, led by experienced employees into the wilds of West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana. Field patrols observe and document the movements of wildlife with binoculars and telescopes, entering the recorded data into a digital database. This has blossomed into 20+ years of recorded animal activity in habitats crucial to bison migration, providing us with an opportunity to contribute valuable new ecological data on the wildlife that cross US-191, including details on animal numbers, locations, and seasonal movement patterns.

Working with a team of talented professors and students from Rutgers University we are conducting a study on this dataset, looking at what wildlife crossing structures would work best given the species of wildlife present, and most importantly where to put them based on where the majority of the animals cross over time. We are using ecological data to support our work addressing safety issues for nature and society alike. The behavior of bison is unique to other migrating species, these massive animals will sometimes walk along roadways for easier passage during their migration. However, bison will also cross the road swiftly and in large numbers. This research will address the frequency in which this occurs, specifically whether bison are more inclined to cross or walk alongside the road to better understand their behavior. Our field operations document the start and stop of animal activity, allowing us to map out the pathways of bison herds and average their behavioral decisions in the long-term. This study will be used to guide legislative action for crossing structures, and to give scientific merit in applications for wildlife crossing structure(s) funding. But the work BFC is undertaking for wildlife crossings doesn’t stop there.

update JD BFC Plains Bison Sightings West Yellowstone 2024 2018

update JD BFC Plains Bison Sightings West Yellowstone 2024 2018

With the Gallatin Wildlife Association, we have established the West Yellowstone Wildlife Crossing Coalition, a collaborative formed to address this issue, safeguard drivers, and protect one of the largest nearly intact ecosystems on Earth, the GYE. This effort is currently focused on public outreach efforts and collaboration with other NGOs and agencies to work collectively towards wildlife crossing structure implementation. The current state of wildlife crossings is a public hazard that affects everyone who calls this natural marvel home, an issue we all experience, an issue we can work together to solve.

update Background WYWCC Logo

This kind of project can only succeed if we have the support of the public, so we are seeking survey responses to get critical input on wildlife crossing structures near West Yellowstone, Montana. If you have a few minutes to spare, we and the wildlife of the GYE would greatly appreciate it if you would click the link below! Every response is another step towards safe passage for all on this historic highway.

Follow the link for a brief survey on Wildlife Crossing Structures:

For the GYE,
Jackson Doyel
Wildlife Biologist
Buffalo Field Campaign
West Yellowstone Wildlife Crossing Coalition

Works Cited:

Fairbank, E., Penrod, K., Wearn, A., Blank, M., Bell, M., Huijser, M., Ament, R., Fick, D., Breuer, A., & Hance, B. (n.d.). US-191/MT-64 Wildlife & Transportation Assessment.

Geremia, C., Merkle, J. A., Eacker, D. R., Wallen, R. L., White, P. J., Hebblewhite, M., & Kauffman, M. J. (2019). Migrating bison engineer the green wave. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(51), 25707–25713.

Harris, G., Thirgood, S., Hopcraft, J., Cromsight, J., & Berger, J. (2009). Global decline in aggregated migrations of large terrestrial mammals. Endangered Species Research, 7, 55–76.

Kauffman, M., Lowrey, B., Berg, J., Bergen, S., Brimeyer, D., Burke, P., Cufaude, T., CainIII, J. W., Cole, J., Courtemanch, A., Cowardin, M., Cunningham, J., DeVivo, M., Diamond, J., Duvuvuei, O., Fattebert, J., Ennis, J., Finley, D., Fort, J., … Wolf, L. (n.d.). Ungulate Migrations of the Western United States, Volume 3.