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States and Tribes could soon get more money for wildlife crossings

In dim lighting, deer walk in a line down a snowy slope.
Colorado Department of Transportation
Deer cross a wildlife overpass in Colorado. Last year, the Federal Highway Administration started a new grant program for states and Tribes to construct infrastructure that reduces wildlife-vehicle collisions.

About 1 to 2 million motor vehicles crash into wildlife each year in the U.S.

Kylie Paul, a road ecologist with the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, said such incidents threaten animals, human life and property.

“Each year, it costs Americans more than $10 billion to hit wildlife on their roadways,” Paul said.

Last year, the Federal Highway Administration started a new pilot program to address the issue. Using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law money, the highway administration gave out $110 million for bridges, tunnels, fencing and broader plans to keep animals off roadways and maintain habitat connectivity.

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The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes received $8.6 million, and plan to construct an overpass in Northwest Montana where threatened grizzly bears have been hit by cars. Colorado could start construction later this year on what state transportation officials say will be the largest wildlife overpass in North America: a 200-foot bridge across a six-lane highway to allow elk and deer to cross safely. The state received one of the largest grants at $22 million.

In all, 19 projects were funded in 17 states in the first year of the pilot program. But Paul said states and Tribes proposed more than three times as many projects as got funded. The proposals totaled $550 million — more than the $350 million available in the five-year program.

Paul hopes the initiative is extended and receives more funding.

"It’s very evident that states and other entities across the country are really looking to address this problem," she said.

She said the competitive nature of the grant program has also fueled state-level momentum. Utah, for example, set aside $20 million to be competitive for federal wildlife crossing grants. Colorado is designing potential bridges and underpasses in advance so it can tell the federal agency they're shovel-ready.

The Federal Highway Administration this month opened up the next round of wildlife crossing grant funding and will give out up to $145 million. Applications are due in September.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Rachel Cohen is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter for KUNC. She covers topics most important to the Western region. She spent five years at Boise State Public Radio, where she reported from Twin Falls and the Sun Valley area, and shared stories about the environment and public health.