The NAS Transportation Research Board continued its revamped Annual Meeting last week, holding virtual technical committee meetings on a wide range of research topics. In this “snapshot” of what the forums look like this year, can you spot some familiar WTI faces at a Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands Committee event last week?
As a reminder, if you are attending the 2021 Annual Meeting, look for WTI researchers at the following events this week:
January 21 – Moving Research to Practice – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will
present on research to create a new method for screening low-volume roads.
January 22 – Rob Ament and Natalie Villwock-Witte will
facilitate a workshop on National Standards for Wildlife Vehicle Data
Collection (Workshop #1041)
January 22 – Ahmed Al-Kaisy will participate in a panel
discussion on new safety developments on low-volume roads (Workshop #1044)
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.
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!
Congratulations to WTI’s Natalie Villwock-Witte! She was selected as the new chair of a National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board (TRB) Committee — ADA 40, Transportation Needs of National Parks & Public Lands. She will serve a three-year term starting in April, succeeding outgoing chair and longtime friend of WTI, Steve Suder.
WTI has a long history with this committee and its research. Retired WTI Executive Director Steve Albert was a founding member and held several leadership positions through the years. A number of other WTI staff have served on the committee and been active in its activities, including two national conferences on the transportation needs of national parks and public lands.
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.
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.
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.