Recently, WTI co-hosted the Transportation Research Board (TRB) International Conference on Low Volume Roads, held in Kalispell, Montana earlier this fall. Attendees who stayed a few extra days could opt to take part in another Transportation Research Board (TRB) event – the mid-year meeting of the TRB Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands (ADA40), which has synergistic interests in topics related to providing access and safe travel in rural, remote, or unique locations.
Happy scheduling coincidence? On the contrary, the two planning committees coordinated the dates of their forums to encourage attendance and allow participants to add value to their trips. After learning about state-of-the practice management tools for low volume roads at the international conference, members of the National Parks committee held their own business meeting where they addressed emerging issues, such as the impacts and implications of visitors using E-bikes on public lands. Attendees also visited Glacier National Park where they learned about the management challenges of increasing visitation from Park Superintendent Jeff Mow and about transportation impacts on wildlife from Senior Wildlife Biologist John Waller.
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows attended both events and maximized the professional development opportunities. Current fellows Vince Ziols, Naomi Fireman, and Nathan Begay are each assigned to a federal land unit where they work for one to two years on special transportation projects. The TRB forums allow them to expand their knowledge on other emerging transportation issues. Moreover, the Fellows had opportunities (not often available to young professionals) to collaborate and network with national transportation experts and leaders.
“At the Low Volume Roads conference, we were exposed to a productive mix of on-the-ground research and innovative thinking,” recalled the Fellows. “We met all sorts of people working on everything from safety signage to turning rail cars into pedestrian bridges to researching how autonomous vehicles could be used on public lands. We were inspired by everyone’s passion and dedication to public service. At the different field trips and events, we played ‘networking bingo’ and were able to converse with transportation professionals in a variety of fields.”
In addition, the discussion about E-bikes at the ADA 40 Committee meeting led to the development of a lectern session on this topic for the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2020. Fellow Naomi Firemen is conducting research on this issue at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. She was added to the January agenda and will have the chance to make a presentation to a national audience. All three Fellows will also be showcasing posters about their research at the TRB Annual Meeting, which they are looking forward to: “We are excited for this year’s TRB conference to reconnect with the ADA40 committee, expand our networks, and learn about even more current and innovative transportation research topics.”
The newest Fellow participating in the Public Lands Transportation Fellows program is Nathan Begay, who started working at the Valle de Oro Urban Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico in September. Nathan graduated from the University of New Mexico with a Masters in Community and Regional Planning with an emphasis in Physical Planning and Design. Much of Nathan’s emphasis of study had been on placemaking, sustainable design, and community engagement. In addition to graduate school, much of his work experience has been dedicated to working on public lands, including work with the National Park Service at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and Salinas National Monument and working on trail crews with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in parts of northern Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
At the Valle de Oro Refuge, Nathan is excited to work within the complex and rich culture of the South Valley. In addition to working within this unique cultural landscape, he is looking forward to giving back to the neighborhoods surrounding Valle de Oro. Nathan is promoting greater connection within the refuge through better trail and public transportation connectivity, creating beneficial relationships with the surrounding community, and finding innovative ways to foster multi-modal transportation in the South Valley. Nathan is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He is a member of the Towering House Clan (Kinyaa’áanii), born for the Red Running into Water Clan (Táchii’nii) from Iyanbito, New Mexico.
Graduate students at Montana State University had a great opportunity to participate in aquatics field research this summer, which was captured in feature article by the Montana State University (MSU) News Service. “MSU engineers, ecologists seek to improve fish passage on Yellowstone River” profiles grad students Haley Tupin and Ian Anderson, who gathered data at the Huntley Irrigation project on the Yellowstone River. The article includes numerous photos of the pair at work on the river and with the fish they studied.
The research project, conducted for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is investigating the effectiveness of a fish bypass channel that was constructed for the Huntley Irrigation Project. The data collected this summer will help determine if fish are using the bypass to navigate around the dam. WTI Research Scientist Matt Blank is a co-PI on the research project and serves on Haley Tupin’s graduate committee.
WTI, the MSU College of Engineering, and the Bozeman Fish Technology Center (BFTC) will continue their partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study fish passage and the barriers that limit fish movements. Under a 5-year cooperative agreement, USFWS will sponsor a new phase of fish passage research projects, using the open channel flumes and swim chambers at BFTC as well as the hydraulics lab and computational/modeling facilities at MSU’s Department of Civil Engineering. The purpose of the research program is to characterize fish swimming performance and behavior, to enhance the design and operation of fish passages, and to develop new methods that improve landscape connectivity for fish and other aquatic organisms. The program also offers many hands-on research opportunities – in both labs and field sites – for undergraduate and graduate students. Read more about this partnership program on the Fish Passage and Ecohydraulics Research Group webpage.
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows program has welcomed its first fellow for 2019-2020! In early July, Naomi Firemen arrived at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex for training in her new position. The Complex encompasses three individual wildlife refuges in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area. Most of Naomi’s work will focus on improving transportation options at the Occoquan Bay NWR, a 600-acre refuge that is home to many migratory species and is currently expanding its facilities for visitors. She will also explore opportunities to enhance transportation between Occoquan Bay and the other two refuges within the complex.
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program provides fellowships to outstanding masters and doctoral graduates in a transportation-related field. Fellows have the unique opportunity to work at a federal land unit to plan or implement a project addressing visitor transportation issues for approximately one year.
Photo Caption: (left to right) Carl Melberg, USFWS Region 5 transportation coordinator; Amanda Daisey, USFWS PRNWRC Project Leader; Nathan Beauchamp, USFWS Transportation Program Analyst; Naomi Fireman, PRNWRC PLTF; Jaime Sullivan, PLTF Manager; Laura Whorton, USFWS Branch Chief of Transportation and Data Management; and Phil Shapiro, STC.
WTI will host two five-day summer camps in 2019 that are free for area middle school students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), as well as community design and planning.
Mobility Innovations, which will be held July 15-19 and July 22-26 on the Montana State University (MSU) campus, will integrate STEM topics and provide opportunities for participants to apply design thinking to mobility and transportation issues. Through a variety of activities, the camp will explore topics like community design, public health, sustainable construction materials, wildlife and habitat conservation, advanced technologies, and safety.
Students entering grades 6 through 9 in the fall are invited to attend. The camp will bring Montana teachers, MSU faculty and researchers, and industry guest speakers to campus to share a diverse mix of fun, exploratory, and hands-on activities with participating youth.
The camps are free to participants and will meet from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. daily. Space is limited, and applicants may register for only one of the two available weeks. For more information on the camp and to register, visit the Mobility Innovations registration page.
Do you know a graduate student or young professional who is looking for a unique opportunity to gain experience in resources management, public lands visitation, and transportation planning?
The Public Lands Transportation Fellows program is now accepting applications for its 2019 class. Fellows work with staff at a unit or region/field office to develop or implement a transportation project that will preserve valuable resources and enhance the visitor experience. For the upcoming year, the two Fellows will be stationed at Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Woodbridge, Virginia.
The Fellows position spans from July 8, 2019 to June 5, 2020. Compensation includes $33,000 for 10 months, benefits, relocation expenses, housing (differs for each position), and potential for Federal Non-Competitive Eligibility Status.
Please note that job offers will be made contingent on funding appropriations and applicant qualifications. Applicants to the Fellows program must be U.S. citizens, nationals, or lawful permanent resident aliens of the U.S.; be 30 years of age or under by the start date; and have at least a Bachelor’s degree; however, the preference is for recent or soon-to-be Master’s degree graduates.
WTI has managed the Public Lands Transportation Fellows (PLTF) program since 2012. It was modeled after the very successful Transportation Scholars program that served the National Park Service (NPS). To learn more about the program, previous scholars and their projects, visit the Public Lands Transportation Fellows webpage.
Congratulations to two of our hardworking graduate students who have taken important steps over the last few weeks to earn their advanced degrees.
The Center for Health and Safety Culture’s (CHSC) doctorate student, Jubaer Ahmed, presented his Ph.D. comprehensive exam presentation on March 26, entitled, “Emotional Intelligence and Risky Driving Behavior.” His research addresses risky driving behavior among different populations from the perspective of emotional intelligence. Jubaer passed his presentation and will continue with the project in collaboration with his advisor, Nic Ward.
Matt Bell presented and passed his thesis defense for his Masters in Civil Engineering on April 3. His thesis focuses on “An Investigation Modeling the Risk of Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions in the State of Montana.” Matt’s research advisor is WTI’s Yiyi Wang and he also works closely with WTI Road Ecology researchers on projects including an international workshop on new designs for wildlife crossing structures.
Final 7! On Friday, March 1, the MSU College of Engineering hosted the finals of its Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition. Road Ecology Graduate Student Matt Bell was one of seven finalists vying for best presentation of their thesis research in only 180 seconds, using only one slide. Matt’s presentation, “Modeling Risk of Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions,” focuses on his research with mentor Dr. Yiyi Wang to develop a real-time risk model that alerts drivers of areas with higher risk of collisions with large animals.
Three Minute Thesis is a research communication competition developed by the University of Queensland in Australia (www.threeminutethesis.org). It encourages graduate students to develop their presentation skills and learn how to explain complex concepts to general audiences. More than 200 universities in the U.S. now participate.
Fernanda Abra, a Brazilian Ph.D. student who has conducted wildlife research with a leading WTI road ecologist for nearly a decade, is one of only three scientists worldwide to be selected for the 2019 Future For Nature Award, announced on February 19.
A few months ago, eight young conservationists from around the world were nominated for the Future For Nature Award. The nominees came from Brazil, India, Nepal, The Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Rwanda, and the United Kingdom. Today, the three award winners were announced: Fernanda Abra (Brazil), Divya Karnad (India), and Olivier Nsengimana (Rwanda). Fernanda Abra has a long-term connection with Montana and is currently working in Missoula with one of her PhD advisors, Dr. Marcel Huijser.
The Future For Nature Foundation (FFN) is a Dutch organization that supports young, talented and ambitious conservationists, committed to protecting wild animals and wild plant species. FFN states that “The commitment of these individuals is what will make the difference for the future of nature. Through their leadership they inspire and mobilize communities, organizations, governments, investors and the public at large.”
Every year, three awards are available to young conservationists from all over the world. The Award offers the winners international recognition, financial support of 50,000 Euros to carry out their work, and the opportunity to work with an international network of conservationists.
Ms. Abra is a PhD student in the Applied Ecology program at “Luiz de Queiroz” College of Agriculture, University of São Paulo (ESALQ/USP). Her advisors are Dr. Kátia Ferraz (professor at ESALQ/USP, Department of Forest Science, LEMaC Wildlife Ecology, Management and Conservation Lab) and Dr. Marcel Huijser (research ecologist at the Western Transportation Institute, Montana State University).
“As a researcher, Fernanda has already made a positive impact on species conservation in Brazil. For her PhD she is generating knowledge on the number of road-killed mammals, understanding their spatial and temporal patterns, and developing tools to reduce the huge impact of roads and traffic on Brazil’s biodiversity. The combination of hard work and determination will result in reduced unnatural mortality of mammals and reduced habitat fragmentation caused by transportation infrastructure,” Said Dr. Katia Ferraz.
Interested in Road Ecology since 2009, Ms. Abra is now in the final stages of her PhD research. Her work focuses on animal-vehicle collisions along highways in São Paulo State and implications for biological conservation, human safety, and the economy. Dr. Marcel Huijser of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University has worked with Ms. Abra for nearly nine years, overseeing her 2010 internship on the wildlife mitigation study along US Hwy 93 on the Flathead Indian Reservation, as well as advising on both her Masters research and her PhD in Brazil. Through her work with Dr. Huijser she has been fortunate to be able to study and apply some of the lessons learned from Montana’s investment in wildlife crossing structures along highways and animal detection systems in the region.
As Dr. Huijser explains:“Fernanda has long term vision, concrete goals, and the political savvy to get things done. When I first met her in 2010, she realized that local expertise in road ecology was needed to manage the environmental impacts associated with Brazil’s quickly expanding transportation network. And she made this happen by securing funding for me to teach two graduate level road ecology courses and for two national conferences on transportation ecology. Thanks to her vision, hundreds of Brazilian students, researchers, and policy makers have been introduced to road ecology concepts. As a result, an increasing number of wildlife mitigation measures are being effectively implemented on the ground in Brazil.”
In addition to her academic research and work as a consultant, Ms. Abra volunteers as a road ecologist for several conservation projects including the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative and the Anteaters and Highways Project. She is also responsible for the road-ecology data in the National Action Plans for threatened canids, felids and ungulates, including iconic species such as the maned wolf, hoary fox, jaguar, puma, and lowland tapir.
Dr. Patricia Medici, coordinator of Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative in Brazil, Chair of Tapir Specialist Group of IUCN and Winner of the FFN Award in 2008 has worked with Ms. Abra for several years. She explains that: “Fernanda plays a key role in the conservation of Brazilian mammal species because she knows how to measure the extent of the road-kill impact, the barrier effect of transportation infrastructure, and, most importantly, she knows how to mitigate the problems. I find it very interesting how Fernanda feels confident and comfortable both doing fieldwork under tough conditions along highways and participating in technical and political meetings with professionals and authorities from environmental and transportation agencies. She is extremely versatile and knows how to keep that link between the world out there and the meeting rooms.”
FFN winners are truly inspiring young individuals, who are bringing creative and innovative solutions to pressing environmental problems. Ms. Abra’s win shines a light on the global impact of roads on wildlife and the leadership role that both Montana and Brazil are taking to mitigate these impacts for the benefit of people and wildlife.
In response to winning the award, Ms. Abra said: “I feel so fortunate to work with incredible species such as tapirs, giant anteaters, maned wolf, jaguar, and other Brazilian canids and felids, and to be advised and supported by respected researchers and conservationists! I´m honored to receive the Future For Nature Award – this will help upscale my efforts to work with stakeholders, implement on-the-ground projects, and help protect Brazil’s amazing biodiversity.”