WTI Road Ecologists to Present at National and International Conferences

June is a busy month for WTI’s road ecologists; Mat Bell, Dr. Marcel Huijser, and Rob Ament will be giving poster presentations and serving expert panelists both nationally and abroad. If you are attending the 2023 International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET) or BISON’s International Seminar: Transport Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges, please join them at the events below.

International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET)

Burlington, Vermont

June 4 – 8, 2023

Poster Reception

4:30 P.M. – 6:30 P.M., June 6

Research Engineer Matthew Bell will present the poster “Roadkill Observation and Data System (ROaDS) Deployment for Federal Lands,” which outlines the ROaDS development and deployment process. ROaDS will be accessible by Federal employees on a national level and across Federal Land Management Areas.

Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser, Ph.D., will present the poster “Effective Jump-Outs for White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer,” which outlines the testing of modified jump-outs for both species along US Hwy 93 North in Montana.


Technical Session 27: Diving in to the First Pooled Fund Study for Transportation Ecology

10:45 A.M. EST, June 8

Together, Mat and Marcel will participate in a panel discussion on the Transportation Pooled-Fund Project TPF-5(358), administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation, which was a first-of-its-kind road ecology study. It sought to identify cost-effective solutions that integrate highway safety and mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity and includes the work of twenty-seven authors, fourteen separate research projects, a Best Practices manual, and a final report synthesizing all findings.


International Seminar: Transportation Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges

Research and Innovation as drivers for transformative changes

Council of Europe: Av. de l’Europe, 67000 Strasbourg, France

June 7 – 11, 2023

International Panorama: Overview of infrastructure and biodiversity nexus of challenges

10:15 A.M. – 11:00 A.M., June 7

Rob Ament will be joining this international panel of experts as Senior Conservationist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. He is also co-chair of the IUCN Transport Working Group, which sits under the World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist group.

RET Participants Showcase Project-based Lesson at ITEEA

Two men standing in front of a conference table.
Montana high school teachers Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings (left) and Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena (right) presented at ITEEA 2023 in Minneapolis.

Two alumni of WTI’s Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program were invited to share their RET project-based classroom unit at the STEM Showcase held in conjunction with the 2023 International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) annual conference in April. Montana high school teachers Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena and Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings teamed up to investigate the making and use of concrete during their 2022 RET experience and developed classroom lessons and activities.

With guidance from Montana State University (MSU) researchers and faculty, Bryson and Warner designed their classroom unit around the theme of Sustainable Infrastructure Materials and Practices, using the making, mix-designs, and placement of concrete to teach students about proportionality, dimensional analysis, and geology.

The NSF-funded program, which comes to a close this year, was started in 2018 as a six-week summer interdisciplinary research opportunity for secondary school and community college STEM teachers and faculty. ITS-RET participants developed skills and curricula to address the unique challenges of rural transportation through new development and testing of technology, infrastructure materials, and models of rural transportation improvements.

Bryson and Warner’s RET experience didn’t end with the summer program. Attending the ITEEA conference in Minneapolis provided them with ongoing opportunities for professional development. “I met lots of amazing teachers at the conference who gave me ideas to bring back to my classroom,” noted Warner. “I was able to tour a 3D printing company and learn about new technology. I attended fantastic sessions about project-based learning, coding in the classroom, and methods for teaching gear ratios, and I was able to learn about organizations and grant opportunities to advance my career. ITEEA was a great experience.”

WTI’s Dr. Marcel Huijser Awarded Y2Y Funding for Grizzly Bear Research

A man smiling in front of a highway underpass.
Dr. Marcel Huijser was awarded Y2Y funding to monitor this animal underpass by camera. He is particularly interested in documenting the activity of grizzly sows with cubs.

WTI’s Dr. Marcel Huijser received funds from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) to support continued grizzly bear research along US Hwy 93 North on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. Conducted in collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) – known as the SélišQl̓ispe in the Séliš language and K̓upawiȼq̓nuk or Ksanka in the Ktunaxa and Ksanka languages – the research is focused on grizzly bear use of wildlife crossing structures. “It is important to know if the existing crossing structures are suitable for the bears, particularly sows with cubs, so that their natural movements across the landscape can be supported. If the barrier effect of highways is substantially reduced, then their genetic and demographic connectivity is preserved, and they can also strengthen or repopulate other areas further away,” said Huijser.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative logo.

More wildlife fences and crossing structures are needed to reduce direct road mortality and facilitate the safe movement of grizzly bears from one side of the road to the other. Preliminary data collected by Huijser and two research collaborators, Payton Adams and Samantha Getty, suggest that while some grizzly bears use the large culverts that are the most common structures along the road, sows with cubs rarely do. They prefer very large (50-70 meters wide) crossing structures and large open span bridges. Currently, the vast majority of family groups cross the highway at road level, where they risk being hit by vehicles. Between 1998 and 2022, at least 22 grizzly bears were hit and killed along US Hwy 93 North on the Flathead Indian Reservations. Seven of them (32%) were cubs.

To reduce roadkill, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is currently increasing the length of the wildlife fences along US Hwy 93 and connecting them to existing underpasses. According to a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grants Program-funded report written by Adams, Huijser, and Getty and published by the CSKT, this will likely reduce the number of grizzlies and other large mammal species killed by vehicles. However, unless more suitable crossing structures are provided as well, extended fences may also result in a greater barrier for grizzly bears, especially sows with cubs.

Along with larger crossing structures and fencing, the researchers recommend a full suite of mitigation measures along Hwy 93 North such as wildlife jump-outs (mounds along the fence that are intended to allow animals to leave the roadway but not enter), zero fence gaps, and electrified barriers at access roads. Combining these mitigation measures with habitat restoration, especially along riparian zones, would allow for better habitat and easier access to crossing structures for grizzly bears of all ages and sexes.