WTI Road Ecologists to Present at National and International Conferences

June is a busy month for WTI’s road ecologists; Mat Bell, Dr. Marcel Huijser, and Rob Ament will be giving poster presentations and serving expert panelists both nationally and abroad. If you are attending the 2023 International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET) or BISON’s International Seminar: Transport Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges, please join them at the events below.

International Conference on Ecology & Transportation (ICOET)

Burlington, Vermont

June 4 – 8, 2023

Poster Reception

4:30 P.M. – 6:30 P.M., June 6

Research Engineer Matthew Bell will present the poster “Roadkill Observation and Data System (ROaDS) Deployment for Federal Lands,” which outlines the ROaDS development and deployment process. ROaDS will be accessible by Federal employees on a national level and across Federal Land Management Areas.

Senior Research Ecologist Marcel Huijser, Ph.D., will present the poster “Effective Jump-Outs for White-Tailed Deer and Mule Deer,” which outlines the testing of modified jump-outs for both species along US Hwy 93 North in Montana.


Technical Session 27: Diving in to the First Pooled Fund Study for Transportation Ecology

10:45 A.M. EST, June 8

Together, Mat and Marcel will participate in a panel discussion on the Transportation Pooled-Fund Project TPF-5(358), administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation, which was a first-of-its-kind road ecology study. It sought to identify cost-effective solutions that integrate highway safety and mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity and includes the work of twenty-seven authors, fourteen separate research projects, a Best Practices manual, and a final report synthesizing all findings.


International Seminar: Transportation Infrastructure and Biodiversity at a nexus of challenges

Research and Innovation as drivers for transformative changes

Council of Europe: Av. de l’Europe, 67000 Strasbourg, France

June 7 – 11, 2023

International Panorama: Overview of infrastructure and biodiversity nexus of challenges

10:15 A.M. – 11:00 A.M., June 7

Rob Ament will be joining this international panel of experts as Senior Conservationist for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. He is also co-chair of the IUCN Transport Working Group, which sits under the World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist group.

RET Participants Showcase Project-based Lesson at ITEEA

Two men standing in front of a conference table.
Montana high school teachers Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings (left) and Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena (right) presented at ITEEA 2023 in Minneapolis.

Two alumni of WTI’s Research Experience for Teachers in Innovative Transportation Systems (ITS-RET) program were invited to share their RET project-based classroom unit at the STEM Showcase held in conjunction with the 2023 International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) annual conference in April. Montana high school teachers Jake Warner of Capital High School in Helena and Rob Bryson of Skyview High School in Billings teamed up to investigate the making and use of concrete during their 2022 RET experience and developed classroom lessons and activities.

With guidance from Montana State University (MSU) researchers and faculty, Bryson and Warner designed their classroom unit around the theme of Sustainable Infrastructure Materials and Practices, using the making, mix-designs, and placement of concrete to teach students about proportionality, dimensional analysis, and geology.

The NSF-funded program, which comes to a close this year, was started in 2018 as a six-week summer interdisciplinary research opportunity for secondary school and community college STEM teachers and faculty. ITS-RET participants developed skills and curricula to address the unique challenges of rural transportation through new development and testing of technology, infrastructure materials, and models of rural transportation improvements.

Bryson and Warner’s RET experience didn’t end with the summer program. Attending the ITEEA conference in Minneapolis provided them with ongoing opportunities for professional development. “I met lots of amazing teachers at the conference who gave me ideas to bring back to my classroom,” noted Warner. “I was able to tour a 3D printing company and learn about new technology. I attended fantastic sessions about project-based learning, coding in the classroom, and methods for teaching gear ratios, and I was able to learn about organizations and grant opportunities to advance my career. ITEEA was a great experience.”

WTI’s Dr. Marcel Huijser Awarded Y2Y Funding for Grizzly Bear Research

A man smiling in front of a highway underpass.
Dr. Marcel Huijser was awarded Y2Y funding to monitor this animal underpass by camera. He is particularly interested in documenting the activity of grizzly sows with cubs.

WTI’s Dr. Marcel Huijser received funds from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) to support continued grizzly bear research along US Hwy 93 North on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. Conducted in collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) – known as the SélišQl̓ispe in the Séliš language and K̓upawiȼq̓nuk or Ksanka in the Ktunaxa and Ksanka languages – the research is focused on grizzly bear use of wildlife crossing structures. “It is important to know if the existing crossing structures are suitable for the bears, particularly sows with cubs, so that their natural movements across the landscape can be supported. If the barrier effect of highways is substantially reduced, then their genetic and demographic connectivity is preserved, and they can also strengthen or repopulate other areas further away,” said Huijser.

The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative logo.

More wildlife fences and crossing structures are needed to reduce direct road mortality and facilitate the safe movement of grizzly bears from one side of the road to the other. Preliminary data collected by Huijser and two research collaborators, Payton Adams and Samantha Getty, suggest that while some grizzly bears use the large culverts that are the most common structures along the road, sows with cubs rarely do. They prefer very large (50-70 meters wide) crossing structures and large open span bridges. Currently, the vast majority of family groups cross the highway at road level, where they risk being hit by vehicles. Between 1998 and 2022, at least 22 grizzly bears were hit and killed along US Hwy 93 North on the Flathead Indian Reservations. Seven of them (32%) were cubs.

To reduce roadkill, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) is currently increasing the length of the wildlife fences along US Hwy 93 and connecting them to existing underpasses. According to a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Grants Program-funded report written by Adams, Huijser, and Getty and published by the CSKT, this will likely reduce the number of grizzlies and other large mammal species killed by vehicles. However, unless more suitable crossing structures are provided as well, extended fences may also result in a greater barrier for grizzly bears, especially sows with cubs.

Along with larger crossing structures and fencing, the researchers recommend a full suite of mitigation measures along Hwy 93 North such as wildlife jump-outs (mounds along the fence that are intended to allow animals to leave the roadway but not enter), zero fence gaps, and electrified barriers at access roads. Combining these mitigation measures with habitat restoration, especially along riparian zones, would allow for better habitat and easier access to crossing structures for grizzly bears of all ages and sexes.

WTI’s CATS program joins international EPIC-Network

Susan Gallagher, CATS Coordinator

We are pleased to announce that WTI’s Community-engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS) program is now a member of the Education Partnership for Innovation in Communities Network (Epic-N), a group of programs that match community-identified needs and projects with the resources, expertise, and human capital of university students.

To become a member, programs must demonstrate that they align with the tenants of Epic-N: respecting existing administrative structures, individual responsibilities, and incentives; creating genuine partnerships with local governments or organizations; intentionally aiming to improve quality of life; focusing on community-identified, -driven, and -evaluated contributions; and catalyzing multi-disciplinary work and high numbers of courses, students, and student hours.

Since its foundation in 2018, CATS has provided hands-on learning experiences for more than 400 MSU students on over 40 projects for the City of Bozeman. The diversity of project needs has facilitated participation from an equal diversity of university disciplines, including geography and GIS, sociology, political science, sustainable foods & bioenergy systems, environmental, chemical, and industrial engineering, architecture, environmental science, film, and horticulture.

To begin a project, interested partners select a community challenge and work with Susan Gallagher, the CATS coordinator, to develop a project outline, budget, and schedule. They also identify an MSU faculty member excited to address the issue with their students. Most projects, such as Community Garden Expansion – Recommendations Based on Case Studies, are completed within a single semester, though projects may be expanded to increase their scope and depth. A notable example is the Investigating Neighborhood Character in the Northeast Neighborhood of Bozeman, MT which built on the work of multiple MSU courses and departments. The final product was a beautiful report documenting the “existing character of the neighborhood and social, economic, and architectural changes as perceived by residents,” and outlining the neighborhood characteristics that should be protected under increasing development pressure.

The success of the CATS program is due, in part, to its rewarding and continuing relationship with the City of Bozeman. Developing additional partnerships with organizations like neighborhood associations, departments of transportation, and counties, will not only support more hands-on learning opportunities for MSU students, but new and innovative solutions for Montana communities. To learn more about past CATS projects and developing partnerships, visit

WTI Researchers Improving Roadway Safety in Big Sky

Proposed traffic calming installation at Ousel Falls & Aspen in Big Sky, MT. Source: Google

Work is moving forward on a collaborative project between WTI and Big Sky Community Organization (BSCO) on an Ousel Falls Road traffic calming and place-making project. Organizers believe that the temporary infrastructure, funded through the Building Active Communities Initiative (BACI) and the Big Sky resort tax, will increase safety and connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists in the heavily trafficked city center.

Beginning in December 2021, WTI Researchers Rebecca Gleason and Matt Madsen used traffic data collection and community input to design the installation. The proposed curb extensions, crosswalk, and street art will slow motor traffic but will not limit parking. Currently in the permitting phase, Gleason and Madsen hope that installation will occur in mid-May, weather depending.

As a test piece, the Ousel Falls traffic calming project will receive continuous monitoring. WTI will collect data on vehicle, pedestrian, and cyclist behavior in relation to the installation, which will inform suggested next steps. All information, along with a case study of traffic calming in other small towns, will be reported back to the community. As a temporary project, Madsen stressed, the installation is always open to improvements.

IN THE NEWS: WTI Researcher Plans Traffic Calming Project in Big Sky, TPF-5 Sparking Public Interset

outdoor portrait of Matt MadsenMatt Madsen Interviewed in Explore Big Sky

WTI Researcher Matt Madsen, along with the Big Sky Community Organization (BSCO), is spearheading a traffic calming project in the heart of Big Sky, Montana. Madsen describes the upcoming project in the Explore Big Sky article “Traffic calming project set for Ousel Falls Road,” as well as participation opportunities for interested community members. “Community engagement with these projects is very important, especially because traffic calming will be in high-traffic areas,” said Madsen.  “We want people to be aware of what is going on, and the reasons behind it.”

Read the full Explore Big Sky article here.


Wildlife Connectivity and Animal-Vehicle Collision Reduction Project Sparking Public Interest

Online news organization Explore Big Sky highlighted WTI’s $1.2 million dollar wildlife connectivity and animal-vehicle collision mitigation project, TPF-5, in multiple March publications. The articles include comments from WTI Executive Director David Kack, Researcher Matthew Bell, and Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament on the scope and impact of the research and reports.

Read Wildlife crossings don’t have to be so pricy here.

Read Montana State University releases reports on wildlife crossing structures here.

Learn more about TPF-5 here.

BREAKING NEWS: Animals Gather Amid World-Wide Roadway Protests

Collective Calls for Humans to “Share the Road”

By Mike Price Field Correspondent

In a shocking turn of events, animals worldwide have taken to roadways, creating massive blockades and bringing traffic to a standstill.  It appears that the tragic death toll caused by animal-vehicle collisions (AVCs) has pushed many species to their limit of tolerance.  The range of species involved and the international coordination of the blockades shows just how seriously they are taking the problem.

“Enough is enough,” says apparent spokes-animal Auro X (a nom de guerre). “This is not an animal problem – it’s a human problem. How many animals are run down by animal-drawn carts or pets behind the wheel, I ask you? We didn’t ask for this. Mostly we just wander around, minding our own business, and ‘bam,’ it’s lights out. Humans are just going to have to accept that they’re not the only ones using the roads.”

Declaring April 1 to be Animal Transportation Safety Day (ANTS), Stretch, a reticulated giraffe, admitted that while not many giraffes are run down by vehicles “united we stand. Hey,” she added, “an animal is an animal, no matter where or how you live.” However, not all seem to agree on next steps. Among Bovidae, sheep were promoting non-violence, while “Buff,” a bison, argued for a more direct approach. “Let’s take it to ‘em.”


Meanwhile, humans, seemingly caught unaware, are not just shocked but puzzled as to how this all came about. Dr. Hugh Lofting, professor of Animal Linguistics at Mount St Mary’s College, expressed not just amazement, but concern for the scale of events. “In all my years, never have I seen an animal, of any species, give an (intelligible) interview. But more disconcerting is that species world-wide seem to have been speaking to each other, and yet none has chosen to speak to me.”

Other responses have been more alarmed. An anonymous spokesperson for the World Highway Association for Transportation (WHAT), said that transportation agencies everywhere, while sympathetic to the animals impacted by AVCs, cannot allow the blockades to continue.  “If we let animals have their way… if we have to share the road, where will it end?” In response, Auro X said that if humans were truly concerned, these tactics would not be necessary. “I’m tired of all the head-butting over this. In the future, don’t be surprised by further disruptions.” Perhaps most poignantly, “Freckles,” a sweet little fawn, said, “Please, just give me a chance to be a buck…or a doe…whatever.  Don’t be an April fool.  Have a heart and slow down.”

WTI Researchers Develop Deterioration Projections for Montana’s Bridges

The U.S. National Highway System (NHS) – the federally managed bridge and road network that moves American people and goods – has suffered from decades of insufficient maintenance and heavy use. Lack of funds, increasing traffic loads, and environmental exposure have encouraged rapid bridge deterioration in an already aging system. In 2016, nearly 40% of the nation’s bridges were over 50 years old and 9.1% were rated “structurally deficient.” To properly prioritize maintenance, repairs, and reconstruction, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has implemented the National Highway Performance Plan (NHPP), which requires states to design and implement management strategies for their NHS assets.

A sample bridge deterioration curve.

To fulfill Montana’s NHPP requirements, two WTI employees, Senior Research Engineer Damon Fick and Researcher Matt Bell, have developed a bridge assessment program for the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) using three decades of inspection and deterioration data. By performing a time-based statistical analysis on these data Bell and Fick were able to create graphical deterioration projections – or Deterioration Curves – for bridges across the state. These were then adjusted to better reflect the deterioration observed in MDT’s real-world observations. “These bridge deterioration curves guide maintenance planning and decision-making at both the project and network level,” noted Bell. “By reflecting what we see in the real world, MDT can use the curves to appropriately allocate money for future work and make sure maintenance is happening at the right time.

While the deterioration curves indicate the general deterioration rate of bridges across Montana, Bell and Fick will identify specific deterioration variables (deicers, precipitation, traffic volume, etc.) in their next MDT project. “Faster or slower deterioration rates in different Montana districts may be related to maintenance practices, as much as, or in combination with, environmental conditions,” said Bell. “For example, bridges that permit heavy truck loads may experience faster deterioration. If we understand the specific impact, MDT can improve truck permitting and preemptively identify maintenance activities and building specifications. Continually improving the accuracy of the deterioration curves will support the decision-making process for our colleagues at MDT.”

CATS Faculty Participant Receives Well-Deserved Recognition

WTI’s Community-engaged and Transformational Scholarship (CATS) program fosters course-based project partnerships between MSU faculty and students and public agencies or other community-based organizations. CATS provides a framework for agencies to harness students’ ideas, creativity, and energy while at the same time offering students the unique opportunity to work for a real client and to produce a mutually defined outcome that addresses important community needs.

Dr. Sarah Church, Assistant Professor in Earth Sciences, has been an active participant in the program since joining MSU as a faculty member in 2019. Through CATS, she has partnered with the City of Bozeman to engage her undergraduate and graduate students on a wide variety of course-based projects, exploring a range of topics from planning processes, neighborhood character preservation, and stormwater management, to public outreach and communication mechanisms. This spring, Sarah received the MSU President’s Award of Excellence in Service-Learning in recognition of her outstanding track record of fostering student learning through real world community projects.