News

IN THE NEWS: Montana State University Highlights Two Decades of Wildlife Crossings Research

car on a rural highway approaching a wildlife overpass in mountainous region

In a follow-up to last week’s New York Times article, Montana State University News published a feature article summarizing WTI’s long history of researching and advancing wildlife crossing structures.

Starting with the first report to Congress on wildlife vehicle collisions in 2006, the article also highlights WTI’s long-term research on the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures on US 93 in Montana and on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park.  In addition, the article mentions WTI’s collaborative workshops to develop innovative materials and designs for the next generation of crossing structures.

IN THE NEWS: City of Bozeman Awarded Grant for Park and Trail Planning

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that the City of Bozeman has received a planning grant from the Safe Routes to Parks Activating Communities. “Bozeman partners with HRDC to hire part-time help for parks planning” describes the collaboration between the City, the Human Resources Development Council, and WTI to gain more input from the public on park and trail access.  The grant funds will be used to hire community liaisons who will seek to document the needs of local populations that have been underrepresented in planning discussions in the past. Ultimately, the public feedback will be used to update the City’s parks, recreation, open space and trails plan and an “active transportation” plan.

WTI assisted with the development and submittal of the grant application and will provide technical assistance and training to liaisons, HRDC, and the City of Bozeman.

NEW PUBLICATION: Forest Service Releases Report on Wildlife Crossing Structures

The United States Forest Service (USFS) has published Highway Crossing Structures for Wildlife: Opportunities for Improving Driver and Animal Safety. The report is the result of a seven-year collaboration by USFS, WTI, ARC Solutions and additional federal, state, and private agencies, combining the work of a team of engineers, ecologists, biologists, landscape architects, and policy experts. Highlights of the report include:

  • An exploration of the high cost of wildlife-vehicle collisions and the many challenges to transforming the U.S. road network.
  • Documentation of the safety, ecological, economic, and social benefits anticipated to accrue from investing in highway crossings for wildlife, including enhanced motorist safety, reduced wildlife mortality, and improved habitat connectivity.
  • Identification of policy and funding improvements and activities that would further support the deployment of crossing structures.
  • Recommendations on how to build upon successful efforts to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions already underway at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels.

WTI Road Ecology Program Rob Ament served as one of the editors for the report, and WTI Research Scientists Tony Clevenger, Marcel Huijser, and Angela Kociolek are contributing authors.

CITATION: Ament, R.; Jacobson, S; Callahan, R.; Brocki, M., eds. 2021. Highway crossing structures for wildlife: opportunities for improving driver and animal safety. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-271. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 51 p.

SUMMER IS HERE – Time for Transportation Camp!

Students mix cement at transportation camp 2019

WTI is excited to announce two upcoming sessions of the Summer Transportation Camp at Montana State University – free weeklong camps for middle school students.

For: Middle School students (entering grades 6-9 in Fall 2021)

What: Two weeklong camps at the MSU Western Transportation Institute (9am – 3pm) to get everyone moving. Each day camp participants will explore a variety of science, engineering, and design topics related to promoting active, safe, and sustainable transportation systems.

Students prepare to use a microscope during a camp activity 2019

Activities will include:

– hands-on design challenges

– local trail explorations by bike

– field trips of discovery

When: June 21-25 and July 12-16, 2021

Cost: Free! There is no cost to camp participants thanks to a generous grant from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

For more information and to register: http://wrtwc.org/center-initiatives/middle-school-summer-camp/

IN THE NEWS: New York Times Showcases Video of Wildlife Using Crossings

The New York Times has posted an online feature article highlighting excellent footage of wildlife using various forms of highway crossings.  “How Do Animals Safely Cross a Highway? Take a Look” includes footage of a herd of antelope crossing a highway in Wyoming; moose, bear, wolves and deer using crossings in Utah; and an alligator and panther using underground passages in Florida.  WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article in which he discusses that despite the upfront installation costs, wildlife crossings yield significant safety and conservation benefits that save money in the long run. Whisper Camel-Means, a tribal wildlife program manager who collaborated with WTI on US 93 wildlife crossing projects in Montana, was also interviewed for the article.

IN THE NEWS: Embracing Biodegradable Erosion Control

Erosion control blankets installed on hillside in Idaho 2018

Stormwater Magazine recently interviewed WTI Road Ecologist Rob Ament on advancements in the use of environmentally friendly products for erosion control. “Saving Mowers and Wildlife” highlights state departments of transportation that are working to replace plastic netting used on roadsides with flexible, biodegradable options.  In the article, state DOTs report benefits such as reduced need for removal and disposal of nets, less risk of water contamination, and fewer animals becoming entangled. Ament discusses his research on wool erosion control blankets, which are created from waste wool not suitable for clothing or blanket production.  The wool erosion blankets release nitrogen into the soil as they decompose and are showing promising results related to fertilization of the sites where they are used.

PROJECT NEWS: A Smart Transit Hub Feasibility Study for Fort Smith, Arkansas

Graphic shows text and images related to three categories of mobility coordination: services, diverse populations and destinations

WTI recently completed a feasibility study for a “Smart” transit hub to serve an eight-county rural region in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.  The study presents a menu of technologies and programs that help connect people experiencing transportation barriers in rural communities to healthcare, employment, and higher education opportunities.

WTI’s Small Urban, Rural and Tribal Center on Mobility (SURTCOM) conducted the project in partnership with the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation, Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, and Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). NADO and WTI have been collaborating on a series of projects that assist rural communities with passenger transportation projects that enhance mobility options for residents.

 “A traditional transit hub is a physical location where travelers can access multiple services in one place,” said Principal Investigator Rebecca Gleason; “while physical hubs are not always viable in rural areas, regional coordination and emerging technologies offer new ways to connect people to transportation information and services.” The study findings, which are highlighted in a newly released Executive Summary, include recommendations that can be implemented over time, such as hiring a regional mobility manager, exploring methods to connect more people with rides on existing systems, creating a 5-year transit development plan, and piloting a new transportation program. The Executive Summary and full study are available on the project page of the WTI website.

STUDENT NEWS: Meet Alex Musar

outdoor portrait of Alex Musar

Welcome to Alex Musar, who joins WTI this month as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the summer. He will be working with David Kack, Andrea Hamre, and other WTI team members on a number of mobility projects, including the NADO technical assistance project in Southern Ohio and the MPO Travel Survey project in Montana.

Originally from Seattle, Washington, Alex arrived in Bozeman in 2018 when he transferred from North Seattle College to Montana State University.  He is now pursuing a dual degree in Architecture and Political Science, with a long-term goal of working in public policy development, especially promoting sustainable growth models for small rural municipalities.  This summer, he is excited to learn more about the links between transportation and urban design, and how a community can build a public transit system from the ground up.

Outside of school and work, Alex is an avid rock climber, backpacker, hiker, and “passionate follower of the Everton [UK] Football Club” (yes, that’s soccer to those of us on this side of the pond).

OUTREACH: WTI Director Updates Big Sky Chamber on $10 million Infrastructure Grant

Portrait of David Kack from 2020

In late April, the Big Sky (MT) Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting focused on upcoming infrastructure projects in the region.  WTI Director David Kack presented an update on the $10 million federal TIGER Grant, which will fund safety and mobility improvements along U.S. Highway 64/Lone Mountain Trail.  WTI partnered with Gallatin County, Sanderson Stewart, and other regional stakeholders on the proposal that secured the grant. In his remarks, Kack emphasized the importance of this partnership in helping a rural region win a major federal award.  Construction is anticipated to begin this summer on individual projects, to include new turn lanes, vehicle pull-out areas, wildlife crossing signs, a pedestrian tunnel, and recreational paths.  More highlights from the meeting were covered in an article by Explore Big Sky.

Animal Crossing: New Research Guides Efforts to Protect California’s Amphibians and Reptiles from Road Danger

A Yosemite toad looks through mesh fencing alongside a road used to mitigate negative road impacts and guide amphibians towards safe passages.
A Yosemite toad looks through mesh fencing alongside a road used to mitigate negative road impacts and guide amphibians towards safe passages. (Credit: Cheryl Brehme, USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain.)

Companion video shows underground crossing structures in action

Roads can be dangerous for California’s reptiles and amphibians, but a five-year study and new video show that there are effective strategies to help these animals cross roads safely.   

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released the results of the study this week in a comprehensive, evidence-based best practices guide that explains approaches and techniques for minimizing the impact of roads on fragile and diminishing habitats and species, including frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, lizards and snakes.  

The best practices guide is the first of its kind for amphibian and reptile management and conservation near California roads.

“It is no longer a case of putting a few pipes and fences into the ground with a ‘fit and forget’ approach,” said Tom Langton of Herpetofauna Consultants International, Ltd., primary author on the guidance document. “This guide offers resource managers in California opportunities and a clear plan to improve existing crossings and build new ones to better standards where they are most needed. The guidance should be valued in other states with similar wildlife-road issues and at the international level, too.” 

Many reptile and amphibian species must cross roads to reach essential breeding and foraging habitat, are slow moving or are too small for drivers to see and avoid. Snakes and lizards may also be attracted to paved roads that typically absorb and retain heat.  All these behaviors put them at high risk of vehicle collisions.  

“We have a responsibility to maintain the highway system in a way that doesn’t impede or disrupt wildlife, including the movement of California’s threatened and endangered reptile and amphibian species,” said Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin. “This study allows us to analyze feasible and effective ways Caltrans can use ecologically-minded design to minimize impacts on these wildlife populations.”    

Traditionally, transportation agencies and wildlife managers have installed structures to help amphibians, reptiles and other small animals cross highways safely, such as tunnels under roads or barrier fencing.

“While agencies have made significant investments in these structures for many years, there has been little research into how effective they are,” said Dr. Robert Fisher, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) supervisory ecologist involved in the study. “Management guidance informed by science is needed to help ensure this critical infrastructure is safe for sensitive species.”  

With these concerns in mind, the goals of the collaborative project were to address this information gap using a logical framework and to help transportation agencies like Caltrans plan barrier and crossing structures more effectively. 

To help Caltrans determine which reptile and amphibian species to prioritize, USGS scientists created a ranking system for more than 160 species and sub-species, based on their vulnerability to road dangers. Turtles, tortoises and snakes dominated the highest risk category. USGS also developed a mapping system to allow Caltrans to easily find where the ranges of high-risk species overlap with California highways and statewide conservation efforts. Species ranked high and very-high risk of negative road-related impacts include desert tortoise, California red-legged frog, sierra newt and red diamond rattlesnake, among others.  

Then, in a series of field experiments, the USGS scientists investigated how reptiles and amphibians interact with different types of fencing, how far high-risk migrating amphibians move along road barrier fencing before “giving up” or finding a passage, and the effectiveness of turnarounds at fence ends.  

“We were happy to find that turnarounds at barrier fence ends were largely effective in changing the trajectory of many species to help lead them back toward a passage,” said Cheryl Brehme, the USGS project lead. A new video by USGS shows a California tiger salamander successfully make it to an underground crossing after being guided by one of these turnarounds. 

USGS and partners also designed and tested of a new type of passage structure called an elevated road segment.

“The elevated road-segment is really exciting,” said Brehme, “because it can be made to any width and length enabling reptiles, amphibians and other small wildlife species to freely move back and forth across wide stretches of roadway.” 

Caltrans used the results of these combined studies to produce the best management practices guide, which will inform the work of district biologists and engineers and will likely be useful to many other organizations involved in the planning and construction of transportation infrastructure. USGS has also released a comprehensive report of its studies in conjunction with the new guidance document.  

The guide emphasizes that different landscapes – and different species – need a range of solutions, and the needs of different species and their numbers will influence positioning and sizes.

“Planning for smaller rare species calls for designs that take into account the sensitivities and needs of these understudied and often forgotten species” said Dr. Tony Clevenger of Western Transportation Institute, who led the development of the best management practices guide. The best practices guide was produced for Caltrans by the Western Transportation Institute of Montana State University with Herpetofauna Consultants International, Ltd and is based on existing knowledge and foundational studies by the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. 

Graphic logos for Caltrans, Western Transportation Institute, USGS and Herpetofauna Consultants International, who are partners in the best practices guide for amphibian reptile road crossings.

CONTACTS

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
Amy Bailey, Supervising Environmental Planner

Amy.Bailey@dot.ca.gov

Luz Quinnell, Senior Environmental Planner
Luz.Quinnell@dot.ca.gov

Western Transportation Institute
Tony Clevenger, Senior Research Scientist
apclevenger@gmail.com

Herpetofauna Consultants International, Ltd
Tom Langton, Ecological Consultant
TL@Langtonuk.co.uk

USGS Western Ecological Research Center
Cheryl Brehme, Biologist
cbrehme@usgs.gov

Robert Fisher, Supervisory Research Biologist
rfisher@usgs.gov

FOR MORE INFORMATION: KEY DOCUMENTS

Langton, T.E.S. and A.P. Clevenger. 2021. Measures to Reduce Road Impacts on Amphibians and Reptiles in California. Best Management Practices and Technical Guidance. Prepared by Western Transportation Institute for California Department of Transportation, Division of Research, Innovation and System Information. https://westerntransportationinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/4W5589_BMP_Impact_Reduction_Amphibians-Reptiles_Ca-20210226-LR_rev.pdf

WTI Project Webpage: https://westerntransportationinstitute.org/research_projects/california-sensitive-reptile-and-amphibian-highway-crossings/

Brehme, C.S. and R.N. Fisher 2021. Research to Inform Caltrans Best Management Practices for Reptile and Amphibian Road Crossings.  USGS Cooperator Report to California Department of Transportation, Division of Research, Innovation and System Information. 65A0553. https://dot.ca.gov/-/media/dot-media/programs/environmental-analysis/documents/final-caltrans-usgs-report-herproadresearch-rev.pdf

Langton, T.E.S., and Clevenger, A.P. 2017. Amphibian and Reptile Highway Crossings: State of the practice, gap analysis and decision support tool. Report prepared for the State of California, Department of Transportation, Division of Research and Innovation, Office of Materials and Infrastructure Research, June 2017.
https://westerntransportationinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/4W5589_Lit_Review_amphib-reptile-crossings_3July2017.pdf

Brehme, C.S., Hathaway, S.A. & Fisher, R.N. An objective road risk assessment method for multiple species: ranking 166 reptiles and amphibians in California. Landscape Ecol 33, 911–935 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-018-0640-1

U.S.G.S. Turnaround, Salamander! (outreach video) 2021. https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/turn-around-salamander