Summer Postcards: Researchers on the Road

Passengers utilize the Columbia Gorge Shuttle
Passengers utilize the Columbia Gorge Shuttle
WTI Research Engineer Natalie Villwock-Witte just returned from Cascade Locks, Oregon, where she participated in the mid-year meeting of Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee on the Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands (ADA 40). Committee members had the opportunity to try out the new Columbia Gorge Express shuttle service, and visit Multnomah Falls and the Bonneville Dam.


Graduate students participate in a road ecology field trip with Marcel.
Graduate students participate in a road ecology field trip with Marcel.
In Brazil, Research Scientist Marcel Huijser continues his research and academic exchange at the University of São Paulo, where he is serving as a guest professor. He shared this picture of a road ecology field trip with graduate students at the University’s Botucatu campus.

Teachers Translate Transportation Research into Classroom Experiences

At the West Region Transportation Workforce Center (WRTWC), the first Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program is well underway. Ten middle, high school, and community college faculty participants are conducting multidisciplinary transportation research for six weeks at Montana State University this summer. The research topic areas focus on the unique challenges of rural transportation systems and developing solutions to transportation challenges through innovation. In addition to working with faculty and research mentors on research, the ITS-RET participants are translating their research experiences into classroom curricula.

On July 31 and August 1, the teachers were able to implement new teaching materials they developed during a two-day workshop held for middle and high school students. The classroom activities demonstrated what an excellent vehicle transportation is for integrated STEM learning. The young workshop participants were able to hone computational thinking skills during a programming challenge, test the strength of different materials, build and test crash attenuators, and use drones to survey a landscape before designing and building wildlife crossing structures. The classroom modules will be posted to the WRTWC website next month as a resource for other teachers. Teachers interested in participating in the RET program next summer can visit the Center website for additional information: http://wrtwc.org/resources/for-educators/

View the WTI project description

Students try out new teaching materials for designing and building wildlife crossing structures. Part of the Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program.
Students try out new teaching materials for designing and building wildlife crossing structures.

Students try out new teaching materials for computational thinking skills. Part of the Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program.
Students try out new teaching materials for computational thinking skills.

Students try out new teaching materials for designing and building wildlife crossing structures. Part of the Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program.
Students try out new teaching materials for designing and building wildlife crossing structures.

WRTWC is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and based at the Western Transportation Institute.

Blanketing the Roadsides: Wool Erosion Control Blankets Nurture Revegetation

MSU News is highlighting a successful collaboration between WTI and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) to use blankets made of Montana wool to prevent erosion and promote plant growth along highways.  For a recent feature article, Principal Investigator Rob Ament invited MSU news staff to visit the test site along Highway 287 near Three Forks, Montana.  Despite harsh conditions at the site, researchers are observing what Rob calls “vigorous plant growth” where the blankets were placed for field trials.  In addition to the erosion control benefits, the blankets could also have economic benefits by creating a new market for Montana wool.  Check out the article and photos by MSU News, and learn more about the project on the WTI website.

New Publication: Identifying Wildlife Species from Roadkill Data

In September 2018, the journal Biological Conservation will publish an article whose lead author is Fernanda Abra, one of Marcel Huijser’s Ph.D. students at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. “How reliable are your data? Verifying species identification of road-killed mammals recorded by road maintenance personnel in São Paulo State, Brazil” was based on research to investigate more than 3000 images of roadkill animals along toll roads in Brazil. The species in these images were identified by wildlife experts and compared to the species identification previously done by maintenance personnel. The results suggested that non-experts can reliably identify common mammals, but reliability decreases with rare species or those that closely resemble another species. An advance copy of the article is currently available online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320717318906.

Citation: Abra F.D., M.P. Huijser, C.S. Pereira & K. Ferraz. 2018. How reliable are your data? Verifying species identification of road-killed mammals recorded by road maintenance personnel in São Paulo State, Brazil. Biological Conservation 225: 42-52.

Teton County Approves Wildlife Crossings Plan

Two deer crossing guard rail and road on Hwy 191 approaching Jackson Hole, WY.At a recent meeting, the county commissioners of Teton County, Wyoming approved a wildlife crossings master plan, which will now become part of the region’s Integrated Transportation Plan. The Plan was developed by WTI’s Road Ecology program, with Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser serving as the Principal Investigator. Focused on key highway segments near Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park, the Plan identifies and prioritizes locations where the installation of wildlife crossing structures can enhance safety, prevent collisions, and preserve connectivity. During the course of the project, Road Ecology staff also traveled to Wyoming for public meetings to assist with local outreach efforts. Approval of the plan was covered by the Jackson Hole News; the full plan is available on the WTI project page.

In the News: Wildlife Vehicle Crossings in California

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has begun the planning and development of a wildlife crossings bridge on Highway 17, a commuter corridor that passes through deer and wildlife habitat in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  According to a recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Caltrans consulted with WTI’s Marcel Huijser during the planning process, and used cost-benefit analysis strategies from a 2009 WTI journal article co-authored by Marcel to assess mitigation options.  In addition, WTI Road Ecology staff hosted two forums for Caltrans staff in 2016 to educate them on wildlife connectivity issues and mitigation options.

New Project: Creating Safe Road Crossing Structures for Small Wildlife Species

Many wildlife crossing structures are designed to create safe passage for large animal species.  However, there is also a need to reduce the impacts of roads on small animal species, including terrestrial mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.  One approach is to adapt road crossing structures that are designed for other purposes (e.g., drainage structures, bridges across streams or rivers, or livestock crossings) so that they are also suitable for small animal species. Through this project, Co-Principal Investigators Marcel Huijser of WTI and Kari Gunson of Eco-Care International will summarize design criteria for structures that provide safe passage across roads, as well as barriers designed to keep these species groups off the highway and guide them towards safe passage opportunities. The team will set up a central repository with case studies, plan sheets for structures and barriers, and lessons learned. The results of this effort will provide transportation planners, road designers, and road builders with a synthesis of the most current information about how best to provide safe passage across roads for small animals and reduce direct road mortality.  Further information is available on the project page on the WTI website.