KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Smokies wildlife activity and a recent data report have spurred the conversation about the need for safer passages for animals along Interstate 40 between Tennessee and North Carolina. Now, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation has joined the Smokies Safe Passage Coalition to work toward ending wildlife-vehicle collisions or WVCs to create a safer area for both people and wildlife to travel.

The I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing Project, which is spearheaded by the Smokies Safe Passage Coalition, is still in the works. The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is one of the state’s largest and oldest organizations that is dedicated to conservation.

The Smokies Safe Passage Coalition has been working for years to create the I-40 Pigeon River Gorge Wildlife Crossing project to improve wildlife connectivity and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions in a 28-mile stretch of I-40 that’s just outside of the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is the latest group to join the effort. In a news release shared by the group, data was shared based on the recent study – one of the largest road ecology research projects ever completed in the eastern United States.

“Over 28,000 vehicles travel that stretch of interstate every day, which leads to dangerous collisions between the vehicles passing through and the wildlife attempting to cross the interstate to look for food, shelter, or other necessary resources,” TWF states in its release. “This problem is a safety concern for both people and wildlife, and therefore requires multiple partners across states to work together on finding a solution.”

Other organizations working on this project include the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and other conservation organizations active in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Overall, the goal of the project is to build infrastructure for wildlife crossings along the 28-mile stretch of I-40 and make that area safer for animals and humans alike.

Last month, one of the coalition leaders, Jeff Hunter, the Southern Appalachian Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, was named the 2022 Wildlife Conservationist of the Year at North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s 58th Annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards ceremony.

Next up, the Smokies Safe Passage Coalition will be at the Bears Bees + Brews festival in Asheville, N.C. to talk about the project with festival goers.