Increasingly busy highways and fragmented habitats have boosted the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) in the U.S. each year. Dangerous to both animals and humans, these collisions kill more than one million large mammals and hundreds of humans per year and cause tens of thousands of injuries. To begin addressing these collisions, the nonprofit Center for Large Landscape Conservation, Western Transportation Institute, and Dr. David Theobald with Conservation Planning Technologies have published the West-Wide Study to Identify Important Highway Locations for Wildlife Crossings. It pinpoints the highest rated road segments in 11 western states to consider for future wildlife crossings, which would offset collision costs, address conservation needs, and provide for human safety.
The study is also innovative, integrating ecological, economic, and safety considerations rather than choosing locations based on WVC hotspots alone when considering highways across the West. It is also one of the first studies to look at all western states with a consistent, regional approach – allowing for state-to-state comparison. The study is designed to complement and supplement state-wide and local analyses that use finer-scale data, which helps federal and state agencies and other stakeholders focus on areas where wildlife crossings can be deployed.
According to the study’s findings, WVCs with species like deer cost a minimum of $1.6 billion per year in the western U.S. It also identifies potential wildlife crossing structure locations that could not only mitigate impacts to human and animal safety but entirely offset the cost of WVCs by driving down crash rates and their cost to society.
The study comes at a time of increased interest, momentum, and policies for building wildlife crossings and implementing other mitigation measures in the U.S., including $350 million in federal funding from the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The three main components of the study are available online and include the full report containing both the West-wide analysis and 11 individual state analyses, plus a mapping website where users can examine the results at a variety of scales, select different map layers of interest, and download the data.
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.”
Dr. Marcel Huijser Interviewed on A New Angle Podcast
WTI’s Dr. Marcel Huijser shared his story during an interview on A New Angle, a UM podcast “about cool people doing awesome things in and around Montana.” He discussed his initial interest in nature, his move to the U.S., and his entry into the field of road ecology.
Dr. Huijser described the interactions of vehicles and roadways with wildlife, noting that roads are some of the largest land-users in the U.S. and have a significant impact on animal populations for miles around. While animal-vehicle collisions (AVCs) are highly visible (how many dead deer did you see on your drive to work today?), the results of the barrier effect are less so – but just as important. Listen to Dr. Huijser address animal-road interactions and the restorative solutions still available to Montana’s people and animals on the The New Angle website or Montana Public Radio.
Rob Ament Presents the Economics of Animal Crossing Infrastructure
WTI Road Ecology Program Manger Rob Ament was highlighted in the February 24 issue of the Bozeman Daily Chronical article Experts weight costs, benefits of wildlife crossings at Bozeman talk. It covered his presentation on the economic arguments for wildlife crossing infrastructure along the U.S. Highway 191 corridor, which “have been proven effective in improving public safety and habitat connectivity in other states and countries.” Held at Grace Lutheran Church in Bozeman, the talk was attended by over 100 people. Part of a series organized by Gallatin Valley Earth Day Festival Committee, the talk will be followed by more events around the theme “Celebrating and Supporting Wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem – the last best wildlife habitat in the lower 48.”
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.