From spindly-legged fawns to full grown bucks sprinting at almost 60 mph across the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone pronghorn antelope are among the animals that delight park visitors and, more importantly, are part of the incredible diversity of wildlife in our first national park. However, healthy herds of Yellowstone pronghorn did not happen by accident. While approximately 500 now roam the park and surrounding lands to the north and west, just decades ago, the population plummeted to less than 200.

Pronghorn antelope have roamed the western plains for centuries, having evolved to outrun the now extinct North American cheetah. While some herds are year-round residents, others migrate between critical winter and summer habitats. While pronghorn are North America’s fastest land mammal, their speed comes at a price. Unlike deer or elk, pronghorn do not jump well, preferring instead to crawl underneath fences. Impassable fences led to the decline of pronghorn over the years, as increased development on the landscape blocked the species from reaching crucial winter habitat in lower elevations west and north of the park. In order to restore the pronghorn of Yellowstone, it was time for a solution that would allow pronghorn to migrate across the landscape, while continuing to secure livestock.

Ten years ago, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) launched a volunteer-driven program, teaming up with private landowners and public land managers to remove or alter fences, allowing pronghorn to safely migrate. Through just a day of hard work, volunteers from local women’s groups to military veterans from Montana State University have teamed up with NPCA to remove in some cases a century old barrier for animals. Over the last decade, we have engaged more than 800 volunteers to remove or modify nearly 35 miles of fencing, benefiting not just pronghorn but also bighorn sheep, mule deer and other animals as they move across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The benefits of the fencing program reach beyond pronghorn, to the humans making a difference on the lands. As the Volgenau Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem fellow for NPCA, I’ve had the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and work alongside community members as well as students visiting from North Carolina or Rhode Island. Through an afternoon of work, volunteers give back to the landscape and form new connections to our national parks and surrounding lands, while they learn about wildlife issues and the important roles private lands play in conservation beyond Yellowstone’s borders.

While we have made significant progress restoring historic pronghorn antelope migration routes north and west of Yellowstone, there is still more work to be done. Yellowstone pronghorn remain an isolated herd, unable to connect with those further north in the Paradise Valley or west of the park in the Madison Valley. We must continue to increase the ability of this herd to migrate by working within our communities and with elected officials and other stakeholders to continue to remove barriers such as fences and increase the ability for animals to safely navigate roadways such as Highway 89.

Resources to further support successful community driven collaborative efforts to restore historic pronghorn migration routes could come through the recently introduced, bipartisan Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, cosponsored by Sen. Tester. The legislation would help foster partnerships between communities and tribal, state and federal agencies to work together to reconnect important landscapes and protect species in the face of a changing climate and increasing human development. NPCA encourages the rest of the Montana delegation to join as cosponsors of this important legislation.

Recent studies have found that roughly one in five animal and plant species in the United States are threatened by extinction, due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Whether the barrier to wildlife movement is fencing or highways, it is essential that communities, state and federal agencies, and conservationists continue to find creative ways to work together – in Yellowstone and beyond.

Kelsie Dougherty is the Volgenau Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem fellow for the National Parks Conservation Association.