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!

Catching Up with the Fellows

The placement year for the Class of 2019-2020 Public Land Transportation Fellows (PLTF) is drawing to a close.  Over the last three weeks, Naomi Fireman, Nate Begay, and Vince Ziols have been featured in “Takeover Tuesday” posts on LinkedIn, reflecting on their experiences working and learning in US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wildlife refuges.

Naomi Fireman at Potomac River Wildlife Refuge 2020
Naomi Fireman

Naomi Fireman has been stationed at Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Northern Virginia, where she has assisted with a variety of projects to enhance transportation facilities within and between the individual refuges that make up the large complex. Highlights included re-designing a refuge entrance, planning and installing new bike racks, and applying for a federal grant to complete a trail project.  Naomi noted, “Especially nowadays we can see how important it is for people to connect to and get out into nature. I am proud to be helping improve my refuge’s accessibility and connectivity to the local area and beyond.”

Nate Begay outside with flag that reads Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
Nate Begay

On the other side of the country, Nate Begay has been working with staff and partners at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (VdO) in Albuquerque, NM to improve transportation access, as well as expand educational programs.  Some of his favorite projects have included bringing a bike share station to the visitor center, helping staff design the refuge trail network, and designing an outdoor classroom for field trips. Nate appreciated the chance to collaborate with the many local stakeholders who support the Refuge: “Working with Valle de Oro has allowed me to not only give back to my community, but also follow my passion of working in public lands.”

Nature trail near shoreline in Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge

Vince Ziols has had the unique opportunity to spend nearly two years at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) in Michigan. In his first year, he completed a number of transportation planning projects to facilitate access to the Refuge by residents of Detroit and other surrounding communities.  DRIWR then extended his fellowship for a second year, which has allowed him to put many of the projects into action, including extending a regional bus route to the Refuge Gateway and Visitor Center, helping a nonprofit organization secure a $1.9 million grant for trail development, and implementing a trail signage and safety plan. According to Vince, the fellowship has had several valuable benefits: “I have found another home here in Detroit and know that my experience as a PLTF has prepared me for the next step of my career.”

Vince conducted a wrap-up presentation webinar last week, which is available to view on the Fellows project page of the WTI website.  Naomi will present her wrap-up webinar on Wednesday, June 3, at 11 a.m. (EST), and Nate’s will be scheduled for later this summer. To read the Fellows’ entire “Takeover Tuesday” posts, visit the Federal-Public Lands Transportation Institute page on LinkedIn.  For more information on the Fellows program, go to the PLTF page on the WTI 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.

Big Turnout for Webinar on Traffic Safety Culture Messaging

On March 25, Center for Health and Safety Culture Director Nic Ward led a webinar for the National Center for Rural Road Safety on “Traffic Safety Culture Messaging.” More than 300 people attended the forum, which summarized different forms of traffic safety culture messages, discussed the importance of a positive message “frame,” and presented aspects of message design to overcome audience resistance.  The webinar is available for viewing on the Safety Center’s Archived Webinar webpage.

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.

Message from the Director: Our Research and Work Continues

Portrait of David Kack from 2020

Greetings from WTI! To staff, research partners, and friends of WTI who read our newsletter, I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.

During this extraordinary time, we are all understandably focused on the immediate and critical needs of ourselves, our families, and our communities. To the extent possible, however, WTI continues to conduct research, follow up on current projects, and assess future research opportunities. As Jason Carter, Vice-President of Research for Montana State University, said last week: “This event brings into sharp focus the importance of our research mission to push the boundaries of human knowledge in all directions. The research we conduct today has the potential to save lives tomorrow, and make for a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world.”

We are fortunate that many of our researchers can safely conduct their work from home and other remote locations as needed. The WTI headquarters offices are quieter than usual, but administrative, financial, and communications staff are available to provide support to WTI staff and all of our research partners.

Clearly, national and local conditions are changing rapidly, thus we will continue adapting how, where, and when we work. To our research partners, please keep in touch if you have current needs, or want to discuss evolving or emerging issues that may change where we focus our collaborative efforts in the future.

Communication remains more important than ever. While my “open door” approach is still in place, the door itself may have to be virtual for a few more weeks. Feel free to contact me at dkack@montana.edu or at 406-994-7526.

David Kack, Interim Executive Director

LTAP Director Named to TRB Low Volume Roads Committee

Head shot of LTAP Director Matt Ulberg

Matt Ulberg, director of Montana’s Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP), has been named to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Low-Volume Roads — AFB30. TRB is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. Through their appointment, members agree to actively participate in and support the committee’s activities, including those that will require volunteer work. This TRB committee provides strategic planning for research and serves as a clearinghouse for information and resources pertaining to all aspects of low-volume roads including planning, design, construction, safety, maintenance operations, environmental, and social issues.

 WTI has a long history of participation on the TRB Low Volume Roads Committee, given the importance of low volume roads in rural transportation networks.  WTI Program Manager Laura Fay is also a member of this committee, and was one of the key organizers of the TRB International Conference on Low Volume Roads, hosted in Montana in 2019.

Do You Know a Good Candidate for the Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program?

ogo: Transportation icons including, shuttle bus, hiker, cyclist, tour boat and car. Text: Public Lands Transportation Fellows Program

The application process for the 2020 Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) Class is now open!! The PLTF program provides fellowships to recent graduates (sometimes current graduate students) in a transportation-related engineering, planning, or resource management program. They receive a unique opportunity for learning, career development, and public service within a federal land unit or agency headquarters.  This year, the program is seeking applications for five positions: one at the Southeast National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Louisiana, one at the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Complex in Massachusetts, and three within the National Park Service.  Learn more at the PLTF Application webpage, then help us get the word out!

New Staff at LTAP

Headshot portrait of Melissa Schaak 2020Welcome to Melissa Schaak, who recently joined the Montana Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) as a Program Coordinator II.  Melissa will manage the LTAP main office, provide training coordination for statewide workshops and meetings, provide program management in conference planning, and develop communications and outreach for Montana LTAP.

Melissa grew up on a farm and ranch in Eastern Montana and graduated from Montana State University in 2007 with Bachelor of Science Degrees in Business Marketing and Agricultural Business.  She has worked at MSU for almost 10 years, previously in the Counseling & Psychological Services Office as the Medical Records Administrator, in Professional Development and Training as the Training Program Manager, and most recently in the Office of the President and Office of Legal Counsel. In her free time Melissa enjoys spending time with her husband at their home in Springhill, hiking, cooking, entertaining, and traveling around the U.S. and abroad.

Melissa can be reached at melissa.schaak@montana.edu Or, stop by the LTAP office on the second floor and say hello!