Mammal Deaths Due to Vehicle Collisions On the Rise

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Vehicles collide with large mammals as many as 2 million times each year in the United States, resulting in roughly $12 billion in costs plus loss of life.

This global issue has reached a regional tipping point throughout East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Vehicles killed at least 35 bears in the Pigeon River Gorge in the last 10 months. Due to increasing populations—both animal and human—as well as growing tourism in the area, it is expected that this situation will only get worse.

Great Smoky Mountains Association will host Jeff Hunter, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, who will present and lead a panel discussion on this issue.


This event will take place at The Strand at 38 North Main Street in Waynesville, N.C., on Saturday, April 20 at 10:00 am. Slated panelists include Steve Goodman, NPCA’s Volgenau wildlife research fellow; NPS biologist Bill Stiver; Liz Hilliard, a wildlife scientist with the nonprofit Wildlands Network; and Dave McHenry of N.C. Department of Transportation.

When vehicles collide with bears, deer and now even elk crossing in and out of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both animal and human lives are at stake. The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge wildlife corridor—a 28-mile stretch of highway near the Smokies’ boundary—is a key focus area for this group of agencies and stakeholders collaborating to find solutions in what is known as the Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Connectivity Project.

Goodman says the primary goal of the project “is to improve wildlife’s ability to cross this portion of I-40 to improve public safety.” According to Goodman, the results from the project will provide valuable insight into the highway’s effect on wildlife, both in terms of wildlife­–vehicle collisions and in terms of how the highway may be serving as a barrier to wildlife movement.

“Reducing mortality and lessening the road barrier effect will increase the safe flow of animals,” Goodman said, “including those moving to and from the Smokies—for seasonal breeding and foraging opportunities.”

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