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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 12:52:54 08/09/16

In Reply to: I'm on the Highway to . . posted by F. Gump

F. Gump,

I drove that road several times a year, back and forth for decades when I lived in Colorado, and would drive to Yellowstone. That started in the 1960s, but was primarily in the 1980s and 1990s. Over that time, I was always on the lookout for bears, but never saw one. The area that the road traverses is mostly public land, and subject to multiple use, including backpacking, day hiking, horsepacking, hunting, off-road vehicle use, skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and there might even be some logging.

We know that the Yellowstone Grizzly population suffered a precipitous population decline in the 1970s and early 1980s, which led to the listing as a threatened species. What we have seen since that listing and the creation of numerous management entities (like the IGBST) and protection-oriented policies is a slow, but steady, rebound in grizzly numbers. In the Tetons, where the grizzly had disappeared back in the early portion of the 20th century, the great bear gradually re-established a population.

The Togwotee Pass area is considered part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and is contiguous with other areas where we have seen substantial grizzly recovery. I find it entirely possible that the reason we see grizzly mortality via vehicular traffic is at least partially due to increased density in the grizzly population.

Another variable is obviously vehicle speeds. The speed limits in both national parks tend to be considerably lower (mostly 45 mph or lower, with the exception of a few roads in GTNP and Hwy 191 in Yellowstone) than the speed limit on Hwy 287 over Togwotee Pass. Even with the improved sight lines via wider right-of-way and remediation of sharp curves, one would have to expect a fair amount of vehicle-induced mortality in large mammal populations. I would love to know what the mortality is on deer, elk, and moose along that road, but there may not be statistics available. I know firsthand that the deer and elk mortality on Hwy 89 between Gardiner and Livingston is stunningly higher than that within Yellowstone, primarily as a product of the much higher speed limit.

It will be interesting to see what action comes as a result of this supposed "problem". The article says that the intent of the highway reconstruction was the improvement in safety. It doesn't identify which species it was designed to protect. I maintain that the project was successful in improving human safety. Some of those curves were nasty, and if you were heading downhill in winter, they could be downright treacherous! The question remains what is "acceptable loss" in the grizzly population.

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