Technology Transfer News: New Mexico DOT Funds Culvert Assessments from WTI Study

Culvert under a road with water passing through it

WTI research is being put into practice! The New Mexico Department of Transportation has approved a $500,000 project to develop and implement a culvert assessment management project. The project builds on the recommendations of a research study led by WTI to identify best practices for identifying, inspecting, and maintaining culverts and similar drainage structures. WTI researchers, including P.I. Natalie Villwock-Witte, Karalyn Clouser, and Laura Fay, also identified strategies for integrating and enhancing NMDOT databases that house the agency’s inspection and inventory information. The long-term goal of these projects is to implement a systematic inspection process that helps identify critical maintenance needs in a timely manner and prevent potential hazards like the development of sinkholes.

The full research study is available on the webpage for the Culvert Asset Management Best Practices project.

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.

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.”

New Publication: NCHRP Publishes Study on Valuing Wildlife Crossings

car on a rural highway approaching a wildlife overpass in mountainous regionTwo WTI Road Ecologists are authors of a newly published study that explored the use of mitigation credits for transportation projects. Rob Ament and Marcel Huijser, in collaboration with research partners at the engineering firm of WSP USA, led the research for “Valuing Wildlife Crossings and Enhancements for Mitigation Credits,” a project sponsored by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), part of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Mitigation crediting could provide a valuation approach for state DOTs interested in promoting the construction of wildlife crossings and other enhancements to mitigate transportation project impacts.

The report includes extensive information collected from a survey of more than 200 state DOTs and natural resource agencies on valuation methods and mitigation credits that have been used by state DOTs and their partners, as well as potential methods and approaches that could be developed in the future.  The study also highlights four case studies of wildlife connectivity mitigation from California, Colorado, and Florida.

The report is available for download from the National Academies Press website. The American Association of Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) also highlighted the publication in its daily newsletter last week.

Project News: California Site Selected for First FRP Wildlife Crossing in North America

Matthew Bell presents at a wildlife crossings workshop
Matthew Bell at Wildlife Crossing design co-lab

WTI Researchers are collaborating on a research project to develop, implement and evaluate a wildlife crossing structure made of Fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs), a strong but lightweight composite material that could significantly reduce the construction and maintenance costs of wildlife overpasses and associated infrastructure elements.  In recent project news, an FRP wildlife crossing will be designed for a location on US Highway 97 in Siskiyou County, California – the first of its kind on this continent.

The project has evolved out of several research collaborations at WTI.  In May 2018, WTI and its partners, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and ARC (Animal Road Crossing) Solutions hosted a design collaboration laboratory (Co-lab) on FRP-based wildlife crossing structures. The Co-lab engaged experts in engineering, landscape architecture, and ecology from across North America and set the stage for further exploration of FRP material use in wildlife crossing infrastructure.

Also, in 2019 WTI was selected to lead a team of researchers for a Transportation Pooled Fund Study (PFS) administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation and co-sponsored by the State Departments of Transportation of AK, AZ, CA, IA, MN, NM, OR, and WA, as well as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada Agency.  The FRP structural design, implementation and evaluation will be conducted as part of the Pooled Fund Study. Marcel Huijser is the PI for the overall Transportation Pool Fund Study, which will identify a range of cost-effective solutions to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.  Matthew Bell, Damon Fick and Rob Ament are leading the FRP design project component; Mat had the opportunity to present a poster on FRP research at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in January 2020.

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. 

PROJECT NEWS: Just a short train ride from D.C.

Laura Fay and Karalyn Clouser in train traveling to MarylandAfter the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., Laura Fay (left), Karalyn Clouser (right), and Natalie Villwock-Witte traveled on to Maryland to meet with the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) about the Severe Weather Index (SWI) project. An SWI is a management tool that can assess the performance and related costs associated with winter maintenance operations. P.I. Laura Fay is leading the development of an SWI specifically for Maryland DOT, which assesses operations and costs by region, Maintenance Shop, and winter storm event.

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.

New Publications from Road Ecology

two deer crossing a two-lane highway through a forestInterested in Road Ecology research? Check out these recent and upcoming publications.

WOLVERINE TRAPPING: The Journal of Wildlife Management has published “The Sustainability of Wolverine Trapping Mortality in Southern Canada,” by Garth Mowat, Tony Clevenger, and their research team. It summarizes the team’s research study, in which they observed wolverines over a large area of southern British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, used spatial capture‐recapture models to estimate density, and calculated trapping kill rates using provincial fur harvest data. The study was also highlighted in a December feature story by the Wildlife Society: “Are southwest Canada wolverines being overharvested?

Citation: Mowat, G., Clevenger, A.P., Kortello, A.D., Hausleitner, D., Barrueto, M., Smit, L., Lamb, C., DorsEy, B. and Ott, P.K. (2019), The Sustainability of Wolverine Trapping Mortality in Southern Canada. Jour. Wild. Mgmt.. doi:10.1002/jwmg.21787

EFFECTS OF ROADS IN LATIN AMERICA. In 2020, the Environmental Impact Assessment Review will publish “Effects of Roads on Terrestrial Vertebrate Species in Latin America,” co-authored by Tony Clevenger.  It summarizes a review to qualitatively and quantitatively assess scientific research papers addressing road impacts on vertebrate species in Latin America. The paper also summarizes research gaps and recommends an approach for future research.

Citation: Pinto, F., Clevenger, A., and Grilo, C. (2020). Effects of Roads on Terrestrial Vertebrate Species in Latin America. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 81 (2020) 106337.

NIGHT-TIME SPEED LIMITS: The National Transportation Research Database (TRID) has posted the final report for the project “Effectiveness of Night-time Speed Limit Reduction in Reducing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions.” For this project, Research Scientist Marcel Huijser and his partners investigated the effects of speed limit reductions at mule deer collision hotspots in Wyoming. The researchers studied the effects of the speed limits on vehicle speeds, on the interactions between wildlife and vehicles, and on the number of observed collisions.

Citation:  Riginos, C., Fairbank, E. Hansen, J. Kolek & M. Huijser. 2019. Effectiveness of night-time speed limit reduction in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. Report No. FHWA-WY-1904F. Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, Jackson / The Nature Conservancy, Lander, Wyoming, USA. https://trid.trb.org/view/1659707