Winter’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.”
Two 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.
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.
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.
After 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.
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.
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.
Interested 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
The WTI Road Ecology program, in partnership with the MSU Gianforte School of Computing, has completed a second phase of research on a system to simplify how wildlife vehicle collision (WVC) data is collected and shared among federal agencies.
The research program is sponsored by the National Center for Rural Road Safety, the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – the federal agencies want to develop and coordinate the use of a WVC Data Collection System with other federal land management agencies, state and local agencies, and other organizations. During Phase 1, Road Ecology researchers Rob Ament, Matthew Bell, and Kelley Hall, collaborating with MSU Computer Science professor Mike Wittie, developed a pilot WVC system called ROaDS – Roadkill Observation and Data System. It collects WVC roadkill observations and is available to all Department of Interior (DOI) agencies and bureaus.
During Phase 2, the research team developed recommendations for preliminary national standards for WVC data collection systems, which will promote collection and sharing of consistent data among agencies and partners. The team also made recommendations to modify the ROaDS survey (used for data collection) so it is shorter, easier to use, and more efficient. As part of the development process, team members determined that ROaDS can provide a valuable research function – it captures the observer’s route, how long it took to complete the route and each individual observation made while on that route. Phase 2 also included outreach activities, in which team members began to engage other agencies and organizations to jointly develop national standards for WVC data collection systems via meetings, presentations, and workshops at national conferences that will be continued in Phase 3.
The Federal Lands Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Data Coordination Project Phase 2 report is available on the WTI website. A new poster, which displays highlights from Phases 1 and 2 and proposed activities for Phase 3, is also available at the WVC Data Coordination Project Phase 2 webpage.
At the end of September, Montana State University announced that research spending for the 2018-2019 fiscal year set a new record of $138 million. “MSU records yet another strong year for research” notes that research expenditures were up more than 9% over the previous year, and gave a shout out to high performing departments and centers, including WTI: “The Norm Asbjornson College of Engineering had research expenditures of $18.3 million, led by its Western Transportation Institute, Center for Biofilm Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.” WTI Interim Executive Director David Kack added “We’re very proud that WTI ranked #4 of all organizations at MSU in terms of research expenditures. We had an increase in expenditures of 33.5% over FY 18, an increase of almost $2 million, which is due to the hard work of the entire WTI staff.”
WTI’s contribution to MSU research was also mentioned in “Montana State sets new research record of $138 million,” a related article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.