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.

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.

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.

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

IN THE NEWS: Reducing Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions in Appalachia

Marcel Huijser

Public Policy magazine In These Times recently interviewed WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser for an in-depth article on wildlife crossings.  “Toward a World Without Roadkill” highlights efforts by residents and local organizations near Great Smoky Mountains National Park to reduce the rising number of bears, deer, and elk being hit by vehicles on Interstate 40.  Marcel discusses how mitigation efforts such as wildlife crossings can have significant conservation, safety, and economic benefits.

ON THE AIR: Road Ecologist Highlights Wildlife Crossing Structures Advancements

Head shot of Rob Ament

On February 25, Road Ecology Program Manager Rob Ament was a guest on Top of Mind with Julie Rose, a BYU Radio program. For a feature segment on wildlife crossings, Rob discussed how crossing structures are designed, how they make roads safer for both animals and motorists, and where the newest structures are being built, both in the U.S. and globally.  The full Wildlife Crossings interview is available to stream on the BYU Radio website.

IN THE NEWS: WTI Road Ecologist Offers Insights Into Utah Project

Head shot of Rob Ament

In 2018, the Utah Department of Transportation completed the state’s largest wildlife crossing, which traverses six lanes of traffic on Interstate 80.  The crossing structure made the news again last week, when research footage captured deer, moose, elk, bears, bobcats and a variety of smaller mammals using the bridge.  In news coverage by Smithsonian Magazine, “Animals are Using Utah’s Largest Wildlife Overpass Earlier Than Expected,” WTI Road Ecologist Rob Ament is quoted regarding the high percentage of collision reductions that typically occur after the installation of crossing structures.  Rob’s quote is also included in a similar article by Nature World News.

NEW REPORT: Innovative Strategies to Reduce the Costs of Effective Wildlife Overpasses

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

The U.S. Forest Service has released a new report authored by wildlife crossing experts from WTI, ARC Solutions, and other partner research organizations, which compiles key guidance information that may lead to the installation of more wildlife crossing structures.

Wildlife crossing structures are one of the most effective means of reducing animal-vehicle collisions on highways, while facilitating essential animal movement across the landscape. Yet the widespread implementation of such structures, especially wildlife overpasses, has been hindered by cost concerns. In 2014, WTI hosted a workshop in partnership with ARC Solutions and prominent wildlife crossing experts from Canada and the United States to determine whether there are design parameters and construction techniques that could be added, changed, or adjusted to reduce costs, while maintaining or improving the effectiveness of wildlife overpasses.

Concepts identified during the workshop were developed into specific strategies.  This document presents 32 potential cost savings considerations, which were consolidated into three categories:

  • planning
  • design and construction
  • procurement, delivery method, and cost accounting considerations

The full report is available for download from the WTI website or the USFS website.

Citation: McGuire, Terry M.; Clevenger, Anthony P.; Ament, Robert; Callahan, Renee; Jacobson, Sandra, eds. 2020. Innovative strategies to reduce the costs of effective wildlife overpasses. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-267. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station.

ARC Solutions Presents Former WTI Director with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award

Steve Albert receives lifetime achievement award at ARC event 2020
Steve Albert

On October 20, ARC Solutions presented former WTI Director Steve Albert with a Lifetime Road Ecology Leadership Award in recognition of his enduring legacy in making our nation’s roads safer for both people and wildlife.A not-for-profit network working to promote leading-edge solutions to improve human safety, wildlife mobility and landscape connectivity, ARC celebrated Steve’s leadership, his encouragement, and his creativity, first as a co-founder of the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition and then as an original member of the ARC Steering Committee. Executive Director Renee Callahan highlighted a variety of successes supported and inspired by Steve during his decade-plus tenure with ARC, including:

“Winning 4 Wildlife” – Aimed at introducing middle school students to the concepts of safe passage and the need for creative wildlife-friendly solutions to make our highways safer, this curriculum was co-developed by three Montana teachers as part of WTI’s Innovative Transportation Systems Research Engagement for Teachersprogram in 2018.

WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity Pooled Fund Study – ARC partnered with the State of Nevada to launch a pooled fund study on WVC Reduction and Habitat Connectivity. Study members, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada, have since committed $1.275 million in research funds to identify cost-effective solutions to integrate highway safety and human mobility with wildlife conservation and habitat connectivity. WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser is leading a team of researchers conducting the research task to identify and evaluate cost-effective strategies.

Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Crossing Structure – In one of the research projects under the Pooled Fund Study, WTI is teaming with ARC Solutions, Ryerson University and the California Department of Transportation to explore design-based opportunities to build North America’s first fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) wildlife crossing in Siskiyou County, CA. A highly-versatile materialthat is durable, modular, and virtually maintenance free, FRP is widely used in Europe for bike-ped infrastructure and promises to be a game-changer in the construction of the next-generation of wildlife infrastructure in the U.S.

Renee Calahan makes presentation at ARC event 2020
Renee Callahan, ARC Solutions Executive Director

During the ceremony, ARC presented Steve with a keepsake card and commemorative print by renowned wildlife photographer Joe Riis depicting mule deer crossing a roadway within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Family, friends, and colleagues joined in the festivities by sharing personal and professional tributes illustrating Steve’s exceptional leadership within the field of road ecology. ARC is fiscally sponsored by the Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman, MT. To learn more about ARC’s work, please visit arc-solutions.org. To learn more about WTI’s research in this area, visit the WTI Road Ecology webpage.

Time for Kids Introduces Wildlife Crossings to Young Students

WTI Road Ecologist Rob Ament is featured in a recent issue of Time Magazine for Kids. A feature article called “Safe Travels” describes the large number of animals that are killed in roadway collisions each year, and how wildlife crossing structures work to protect animals as they move across their habitats. Rob discusses successful designs – like the crossing structures in Banff National Park – and how they are models for new efforts around the world, including a project he is working on in Kaziranga National Park in India.

Time for Kids is a weekly magazine for elementary school children. It offers age appropriate learning material for students and is designed to complement curriculum.