David Kack named WTI Director

Outdoor portrait of David Kack in 2020

Last week, Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering (NACOE) Dean, Brett Gunnink, named David Kack as Director of WTI.  David has served as Interim Director since last July, in addition to his duties as SURTCOM Director and Mobility Program Manager.  The College highlighted the appointment in an article on the NACOE homepage.

In more good news, NACOE also selected David for its 2020 Research Professional Employee Award for Excellence, in recognition of “extraordinary service during the most challenging of times.” Due to current event restrictions, the awards ceremony will be scheduled for a later day.

Congratulations, David, and thank you for all your hard work on behalf of WTI!

Watch Our Road Ecologists in Action!

graphic of a hat and magnifying glass over an image of the globe with the text "where in the world is WTI?"

Conservation groups – including the National Wildlife Federation, Save L.A. Cougars, and ARC (Animal Road Crossings) – marked Wildlife Crossings Week (May 4 – 8) by hosting a series of webinars on current efforts around the world to enhance habitat connectivity.  Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament led a session on “Improving Ecological Connectivity: the IUCN’s Transport Working Group,” highlighting his collaborative work with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.  Rob’s full presentation is available to view on the event’s Facebook page.

Did you miss the Earth Optimism Summit hosted by the Smithsonian last month? It also showcased successful conservation actions during a multi-day event. WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser led a workshop entitled “Road Ecology – are we taking the right turns?” His presentation is now available to view at on the Summit website.

Look What’s Popping Up in Bozeman

Seven staff members from WTI and City of Bozeman at traffic calming installation in Bozeman, Montana

On Saturday, May 2, WTI and the City of Bozeman teamed up to assemble pop-up calming installations in a West Bozeman neighborhood on Yellowstone Avenue.  Staff worked together to complete the project in one day, while practicing social distancing guidelines and wearing masks, of course. Team WTI included Danae Giannetti, Andrea Hamre, David Kack and Matt Madsen, while Team Bozeman included two WTI alumni — Dani Hess and Taylor Lonsdale.  Can you spot our staff and partners behind their socially responsible masks?

The installation in West Bozeman is the most recent project in an ongoing collaboration by the City of Bozeman and WTI to test temporary, low cost strategies in areas where neighbors have expressed concerns about speeding vehicles. Several projects in 2019 used street art as a traffic calming strategy.

And… speaking of WTI alumni Dani Hess, did you know that the City of Bozeman recently selected her to serve as its news Neighborhoods Program Coordinator?  Her appointment was highlighted in a local news story by KHQ Channel 6.  Congrats, Dani – WTI looks forward to more opportunities to work with you on local projects!

Why did the bear cross the road? Because he had it all to himself

rural two-lane road with no vehicles in mountainous region

Discover Magazine Interviews WTI Researcher about Wildlife Behavior during Pandemic

Humans are staying home more and traveling less during the current COVID-19 restrictions.  What does that mean for wildlife?  Discovery Magazine recently talked to WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for an online article called “National Parks Are Empty During the Pandemic — and Wildlife Are Loving It,” about what happens when there are fewer vehicles, people, and noise on public lands. Tony discusses how large species, like bears, notice and take advantage of the empty travel corridors: “As you get people off trails and reduce the amount of human activity and movement in some of these rural-urban areas, wildlife really seem to key into that.” He also discusses how parks may have opportunities to enhance their habitat conservation efforts based on what they learn about wildlife during these unique conditions.

Road Ecologist Helps Launch Wednesday Webinars

Marcel Huijser

The Society for Ecological Restoration has started a “Wednesday Webinar” series to promote information sharing and professional development in response to conference cancellations.  One of the first invited speakers was WTI Research Scientist Marcel Huijser, who led a webinar on March 25 on “Open Access: Where Road Ecology and Ecological Restoration Converge.” The presentation focused on new approaches designed to shift from providing safe crossing opportunities for large mammals to restoring habitat connectivity for a wide range of species groups.  The webinar is available on the ECR Webinar webpage.

The following day, Marcel also presented via webinar at the University of Montana, which has transitioned its courses to online delivery.  He gave a remote lecture on road ecology to the students of WILD 370, Wildlife Biology, a course taught by Professor Mark Hebblewhite, who leads the UM Ungulate Ecology Lab.

“Rural Matters” at Commute.com

On April 1, Education and Workforce Program Manager Susan Gallagher presented at CommuteCon2020, a virtual gathering of national experts exploring issues related to the “science of smart commuting,” such as telework, commuter behavior, and emerging travel modes.  Susan’s presentation, entitled “Rural Matters,” addressed how professional capacity building and workforce development initiatives are needed to support the development and implementation of transportation solutions and new technologies in rural areas.  Her presentation is available on the CommuteCon webpage.

Winter Maintenance in the News

Laura Fay -WTI Research ScientistWinter’s not over yet (especially here in Montana), so winter maintenance is still a hot topic in the national media.  In February, Next City published an in-depth feature entitled “Cities Are Cutting the Salt from their Winter Road Diets,” which focused on alternatives to salt and brine for roadway snow and ice control.  WTI’s Cold Climate Operations Program Manager Laura Fay is quoted in the article, discussing environmental and sustainability issues related to deicers, as well as the value of best management practices, such as equipment calibration. The National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board then shared the story via Twitter, highlighting Laura’s quote “If you’re applying the right material at the right time, you’ll save on product, money, and time.”

Road Ecology in the News

Wildlife crossing sign next to to freeway in rural hilly location.

When Road Ecology issues are in the news, so are our researchers!

The Revelator interviewed WTI Research Scientist Tony Clevenger for the article “Road to Nowhere: Highways Pose Existential Threat to Wolverines.” The interview primarily focuses on Tony’s study on the impact of the Trans Canada Highway on wolverine movements and gene flow in the Canadian Rockies.  The full report is available on the Mapping the Wolverine Way webpage.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide recently published “Slashing speed limits doesn’t slow roadkill, report says,” an article about a study in Wyoming to evaluate the impact of lowering night-time speed limits by 15 mph to try to reduce the number of collisions between vehicles and wildlife.  The study was led by P.I. Marcel Huijser and Corinna Riginos, who is interviewed in the article.  The final report for the Effectiveness of Night-time Speed Limit Reduction project is available on the WTI website.

Finally, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News recently featured an opinion piece entitled “Corridors for migrating wildlife work to bring us all together” on the potential benefits of federal and state wildlife corridors legislation. The author cites the WTI Wildlife Vehicle Collision Study, which included the average costs resulting from wildlife vehicle collisions. 

High Country News Interviews WTI Road Ecologist

The Idaho Transportation Department is currently considering wildlife crossing structures for a segment of U.S. 20 near Island Park.  High Country News recently published an extensive feature article exploring both support and opposition to this proposal: “When wildlife safety turns into fierce political debate.”  WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article, discussing the potential role and effectiveness of animal detection systems.  The article also cites his research on the costs to society of vehicle crashes with deer and other large mammals.

Winter Maintenance Research in the News

As winter gets underway, state Departments of Transportation are planning their snow and ice maintenance programs.  In the process, they are considering findings and recommendations from WTI research projects.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is incorporating alternative products into its deicer mix.  The Hutchinson News published a recent article entitled “KDOT using beet juice to clear ice on roadways.” The article states that engineers reviewed WTI’s study “Understanding the Effectiveness of Non-Chloride Liquid Agricultural By-Products and Solid Complex Chloride/Mineral Products” to identify agro-based products for winter maintenance.

The Lake Superior News reports that Cook County, Minnesota is also reviewing its current use of salt-sand mix to treat icy roads. In “Navigating the Slippery Slope of Winter Maintenance,” a Cook County Highway Engineer notes that the agency consulted WTI’s 2017 report, Field Usage of Alternative Deicers for Snow and Ice Control, to learn more about potential alternatives to road salt.

Both of the reviewed studies were written and co-written by WTI’s Cold Climate Operations and Systems Program Manager, Laura Fay.