Washington, DC -- Yellowstone National Park experienced an unprecedented rash of wildlife casualties from road-kill this summer. Six bears, including a grizzly sow and three black bear cubs, were victims of car crashes – the highest total that has ever been recorded at the park, according to statistics compiled by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
According to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, motor vehicles in Yellowstone National Park "are involved in collisions that, on average, cause the death of at least one large animal per day." Notwithstanding this grim toll, Yellowstone National Park is –
- Widening their roads, which increases vehicle speed, the leading factor in large mammal deaths from cars. Nearly half of Yellowstone's major roadways have been widened in the past five years;
- Allowing gas stations to serve customers 24 hours per day. Most of the vehicular animal deaths occur at dusk or dawn, when animals are astir and driver visibility is low; and
- Making limited use of wildlife crossings, sensors or other means to mitigate animal fatalities. Yellowstone regards road-kill as an expected by-product of its highway construction and re-construction projects and does not require crossings or sensors as a condition for approving more and wider roads.
"Yellowstone National Park appears to be managed more by a Department of Motor Vehicles than the National Park Service," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Secretary Norton regards the idea of restrictions on personal vehicles in national parks as "absurd." "Moving cars through Yellowstone takes precedence over wildlife."
The female grizzly is the second killed in the park this year, equaling the government's mortality limit for the species for the first time since 1997. The mortality limit is based upon a calculation that the grizzly population risks extinction if it loses more than two sows per year. In response to the latest bear deaths, Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis has appointed an internal committee "to make recommendations on ways to reduce the number of accidents."
In its environmental reviews of road projects, the Park Service limits its attention to federally protected species, like the grizzly and the wolf. Other mammals, however, bear the brunt of the onslaught -- for example, on average, one moose deer, elk or mule deer is fatally run down every week at Yellowstone. Cars kill as many buffalo in the park as does Montana's controversial bison hunt outside the park.
PEER is starting a campaign to induce the National Park Service to take affirmative steps to reduce road-kill and to enforce its own rules governing off-road vehicle usage in the parks.