Visitors Exact Heavy Toll on National Park Wildlife

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Visitors Exact Heavy Toll on National Park Wildlife

Individual Parks Take Different Tacks in Response to Mounting Road-Kill

Washington, DC — Visitors who come to view wildlife in national parks are a leading cause of their demise, according to road-kill records from Yellowstone, Yosemite and Grand Teton national parks released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Even as park wildlife-vehicle collisions continue to climb, Yellowstone takes no preventative measures while Grand Teton invests significant resources to analyze and reduce these usually fatal interactions.

The National Park Service has no policies or guidance addressing road-kill. Thus, individual parks are left on their own. Documents obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that –

  • In Yellowstone, the average number of grizzly bear deaths from vehicle collisions has doubled in the decade since 2000, while collisions involving bison and black bears have risen nearly 50% during the same period. Since wolf introduction, road-kill of elk, deer and other ungulates has fallen along with their populations, but wolves now figure in collisions with 5 wolves killed in 2011 alone.
  • Yosemite has seen 300 collisions with black bears since 1995 but does not systematically collect data on other species; and
  • Grand Teton tracks vehicle impacts for 24 different species and analyzes the circumstances – time of day, traffic volume and speed, as well as origin – surrounding accidents. The park discovered that roughly a quarter of the drivers were local residents, often commuting rather than sightseeing.

“Road-kill in national parks is a growing conservation failure,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the causes of road-kill, other than cars themselves, are varied and complex. “In some cases, vegetation in the median strip functions like a salad bar drawing animals into harm’s way. Once hit, the resulting carcass attracts scavengers who, in turn, get hit by passing cars.”

While there are similar patterns among the three iconic wildlife parks, their response to vehicular wildlife mortality could not be more different. Records show that –

  • Grand Teton has proactively implemented and tested an array of mitigation measures, including reducing nighttime speed limits (when most collisions occur) and variable message signs;
  • Yosemite launched a visitor education campaign called “Red Bear, Dead Bear” in 2005, which places red signs along roadways where bears have recently been hit. The park has not studied its effectiveness, however, although bear deaths continued to rise after 2005 – as have the number of red bear signs stolen; and
  • Yellowstone has taken no steps to minimize road kill. In fact, it has made road improvements which have led to higher vehicle speeds, such as widening roads and increasing the number of pull-outs for slower traffic. The park had no record of any study or planning on the issue, aside from reviews required under the Endangered Species Act.

“Yellowstone views road-kill as inevitable as the sunrise while Grand Teton regards it as a behavioral issue which can be managed,” Ruch added, noting that PEER is developing a best practices guide for park superintendents and wildlife refuge managers cataloging techniques which have cut road-kill. “The problem of road-kill merits greater park management attention because, besides the needless wildlife carnage, these collisions endanger the people involved and account for a lot of property damage.”


See the breakdown of road-kill records for—


Grand Teton

Look at Grand Teton’s “Wildlife Vehicle Collisions” analysis

Trace how Yellowstone has made its road-kill problems worse

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