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.
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.
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,
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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 reportof its studies in conjunction with the new guidance document.
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.
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
Amy Bailey, Supervising Environmental Planner
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.
Two WTI Road Ecology
Researchers will be the main presenters at a webinar on Tuesday, April 13,
at 11 am Mountain Time.
The National Center for Rural Road Safety (Rural Safety Center) is hosting a FREE, 1.5-hour online webinar on “Road Observation and Data System Project: Streamlining Animal-Vehicle Collision Data Collection.” This webinar will feature an overview of a wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC) data collection system called ROaDS (Roadkill Observation and Data System), a user-friendly tool to collect information on vehicular crashes with large-bodied wildlife for both motorist safety and conservation purposes.
WTI Road Ecologists Rob Ament and Matthew Bell will be the presenters for this webinar, which will be of interest to transportation practitioners, Federal land management agency (FLMA) transportation managers and planners, and wildlife conservation personnel. For more information, visit the event registration page.
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.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Washington Post is reporting on a wide range of impacts, including the effects on wildlife. In a recent feature, “Pandemic shutdowns saved thousands of animals from becoming roadkill, report suggests,” the Post highlights recent research that found large reductions in the number of large mammals involved in car crashes during March and April when stay-at-home orders were in place. WTI Road Ecologist Marcel Huijser was interviewed for the article and discussed how the data may be useful in demonstrating the value of investing in fences and overpasses that help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions on an ongoing basis.
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.
WTI Researchers are
collaborating on a research project to develop, implement and evaluate a
wildlife crossing structure made of Fiber-reinforced polymers (FRPs), a strong
but lightweight composite material that could significantly reduce the
construction and maintenance costs of wildlife overpasses and associated
infrastructure elements. In recent
project news, an FRP wildlife crossing will be designed for a location on US Highway
97 in Siskiyou County, California – the first of its kind on this continent.
The project has evolved out of several research collaborations at WTI. In May 2018, WTI and its partners, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, and ARC (Animal Road Crossing) Solutions hosted a design collaboration laboratory (Co-lab) on FRP-based wildlife crossing structures. The Co-lab engaged experts in engineering, landscape architecture, and ecology from across North America and set the stage for further exploration of FRP material use in wildlife crossing infrastructure.
Also, in 2019 WTI was selected to lead a team of researchers for a Transportation Pooled Fund Study (PFS) administered by the Nevada Department of Transportation and co-sponsored by the State Departments of Transportation of AK, AZ, CA, IA, MN, NM, OR, and WA, as well as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and Parks Canada Agency. The FRP structural design, implementation and evaluation will be conducted as part of the Pooled Fund Study. Marcel Huijser is the PI for the overall Transportation Pool Fund Study, which will identify a range of cost-effective solutions to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. Matthew Bell, Damon Fick and Rob Ament are leading the FRP design project component; Mat had the opportunity to present a poster on FRP research at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in January 2020.