The Role of Research and Adaptive Management in Creating Effective Wildlife Mitigation along Roads

ROOM: Room 240 – La Cienega
Wildlife crossing structures, fencing, and other infrastructure are becoming part of standard operating practice within Departments and Ministries of Transportation, and research is still needed to learn how well they work and what could be improved. While there are some efforts by agency biologists to place camera traps on structures to see animals using the structures, it is important to create standardized scientific projects to scientifically monitor and report results. Without a research project, data may not be collected in a systematic manner or scientifically analyzed to allow for comparisons of results among locations. This session presents talks by wildlife professionals who are working to create and conduct scientific projects where wildlife crossing structures are monitored in systematic methods, and results generated are not only applicable to the on-ground operations of the Departments of Transportation, but are scientifically sound enough to be applied in other locations. The goal of this session is to generate discussion about how scientifically designed studies can result in adaptive management actions and provide results that can be applied in other locations to help design the most effective wildlife crossing structures and other mitigation. The continuum of the state of the practice of monitoring wildlife crossing structures and mitigation will be presented, with different states at different stages of establishing scientific wildlife and road studies.

1:10PM Arizona Wildlife and Transportation Program at Arizona Game and Fish Department: 15 Years in the Making
  Scott C. Sprague; Jeffrey W. Gagnon; Chad D. Loberger; Kari S. Ogren; Susan L. Boe
Transportation infrastructure poses substantial challenges to the persistence of wildlife populations. Research has shown how various species are impacted through direct mortality, and habitat degradation, loss, and fragmentation. In many areas, as road networks are expanded and improved, mitigation to address the consequences of increases in footprint and traffic volume are becoming a more regular part of the roadway design process. Applications include crossing features, ranging from small drainage pipes to 50-m-wide overpasses to at-grade crosswalks, fencing to funnel wildlife to targeted crossings, escape measures to allow escape from the fenced corridor, and access point controls to restrict wildlife entry while allowing vehicle ingress. Controlled testing of designs is typically not feasible prior to implementation due to the scale of the processes involved. Research to evaluate the functionality of applied mitigations is paramount to the effective utilization of limited funding for existing and future transportation mitigation efforts. Monitoring efforts promote an adaptive management strategy as they uncover system weaknesses, design “preferences” of target species, and catastrophic failures that would otherwise go undetected and allow continued funding of ineffective measures. With the inception of the State Route 260 project in 2001, Arizona Game and Fish Department formed a dedicated Wildlife Connectivity and Highways program that partners with Arizona Department of Transportation and numerous other stakeholders. This program evaluates road mitigations, consults on implementation of permeability features, and recommends future wildlife accommodations. These efforts have highlighted short falls to be avoided, design details and refinements to maximize functionality, and successes that reduce collisions by 84-98% while maintaining or improving wildlife permeability. The program is an international leader in the utilization of GPS movement data, structure surveillance methodology, and interagency cooperation. In recent years, the program has expanded formal consultation and assistance to other states and countries.
1:30PM Growth of a Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Mitigation Program – the Pathway for New Mexico Department of Transportation
  James Hirsch; Trent Botkin
New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) has limited staff and budget to address wildlife-vehicle collisions.  However, an underfunded agency can address this issue through low-cost planning workshops, learning from past projects, and collaborating and soliciting input from other professionals from within and outside of the state.  This approach has increased the effectiveness of subsequent wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation projects and increased acceptance of these projects within the NMDOT project planning process. The first NMDOT-constructed wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation project occurred in 2004 along US 550 near Aztec. NMDOT constructed this mitigation project as a result of local public pressure to address the large number of wildlife-vehicle collisions that occurred in the area. Six (6) subsequent wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation projects were constructed by NMDOT between 2008 and 2013 at various locations throughout the state. Formal monitoring or research on the effectiveness of these mitigation projects was not completed due to lack of funding. In 2013, the NMDOT and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) hosted a 1-day planning workshop that identified areas where wildlife-vehicle collisions are a major concern. These areas were primarily identified from reported accident data. Input was also obtained from NMDOT maintenance personnel, NMDGF staff, law enforcement, and local volunteers. This workshop resulted in identifying 32 wildlife-vehicle collision priority areas Statewide. This was the first proactive effort by the NMDOT in addressing this issue. In 2016, NMDOT’s Environmental Bureau finalized a contract agreement with the Contracts Branch of Arizona Game and Fish Department. The agreement allows Arizona Game and Fish Department to conduct formal research and monitoring on past and future wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation projects. Contracting with another agency with more experience in this field stretches limited research funding and provides a large amount of support and knowledge to NMDOT at limited cost and effort.
1:50PM Wildlife and Roads in the Lonestar State
  Stirling Robertson; Robin Gelston
Texas is a big state with the largest road network in the country. So, Texas also has lots of vehicles, people, and wildlife. All too often, the needs of moving people and goods come into conflict with movements of wildlife. Texas encompasses 10 ecoregions ranging from mountains in the west, deserts in the south, high plains in the north, evergreen forests in the east, and semi-arid rolling hills in the center. This diversity of ecoregions equates to high wildlife diversity with the composition of species varying across the state. This poses challenges for transportation infrastructure planners, designers, and ecologists when it comes to minimizing adverse impacts to wildlife through the construction and operation of the transportation system. In this talk, some of the challenges that Texas has faced to improve connectivity, reduce harm to wildlife, and increase safety for both the travelling public and wildlife will be discussed.
2:10PM Collaboration and Research on SH 9 as a New Paradigm for Doing Business in Colorado
  Michelle Cowardin
The Colorado State Highway 9 (SH9) Wildlife and Safety Improvement Project is the culmination of a comprehensive and collaborative effort by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and numerous other public and private partners. It was designed to improve safety while maintaining permeability for wildlife along a 10.5-mile stretch of SH9 between Kremmling and Silverthorne in Grand County. The highway had a large number of wildlife-vehicle collisions because it follows a valley with a high concentration of wintering mule deer, as well as other wildlife, such as elk, moose, pronghorn, black bear, coyote, and mountain lion. Construction was phased over two years, allowing for researchers to monitor and evaluate the project effectiveness in Phase 1 and make design modification recommendations for Phase 2. Phase 1, completed in 2015, included one overpass, three underpasses and 6 miles of 8’ wildlife exclusion fencing. Phase 2 was completed in 2016, and included a second overpass, two additional underpasses, and continuation of the wildlife fencing. Both phases had numerous wildlife escape ramps, deer guards and pedestrian access gates. Phase 1 camera trap monitoring commenced in December 2015 at 27 mitigation feature locations. Post-construction monitoring, for both Phase I and II, will continue at 44 locations through 2020. Phase 1 camera monitoring documented initial wildlife responses and provided a basis for the partners to integrate design modifications into Phase 2. The primary alterations incorporated into Phase 2 included: a flat-rail to a round-bar deer guard at select locations; adjusted escape ramp locations; escape ramps with decreased slope; and escape ramps without guide-rail fencing. These modifications were possible because of the established interagency and collaborative relationships at the project level. The concurrence in this project of phased construction, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and Phase I monitoring proved fruitful for an adaptive management approach.
2:30PM Partnerships, Collaboration, and Research Drive Wildlife and Roads Program in Utah
  Daniel Olsen; Ashley Green; Patricia Cramer
Utah is currently the fastest growing state in the United States, and its population is projected to double in next 30 years. Road infrastructure is rapidly being expanded to accommodate the growing population and traffic volumes. Utah also has an abundance of large mammals and other wildlife, and as a result, wildlife-vehicle collisions are a concern on roads throughout Utah. The state, however, has made great strides in recent years to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. This presentation will discuss the innovation of a smartphone-based reporting system that improved the collection, management and use of wildlife-vehicle collision data. It will also describe how the use of this system has strengthened partnerships between the state wildlife agency and the Department of Transportation. The presentation will also discuss a new initiative that will to document, protect and enhance wildlife migration corridors in Utah. The “Migration Initiative” seeks to build on the momentum that was created by the reporting system and the continued work with agency and research partners by enhancing relationships with these and traditional partners, and developing new relationships with nontraditional partners.
2:50PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM Helping Carnivores and Ungulates Across Idaho Roads Through Data Collection, Planning, and Research
  Gregg Servheen
Idaho is a relative newcomer to mitigating the effects of highways and roads on wildlife. Its more than 100,000 miles of public roadways, a growing population of over 1.6M, and more than 1.7M registered vehicles are spread over more than 83,000 mi2 of which more than 70% is public and more than 7400 mi2 is designated Wilderness. However, the abundance of Idaho’s wildlife, especially big game species such as deer, elk and moose and the increasing volume of traffic on Idaho’s roads have increased concerns about the effects of roads and highways on wildlife and concerns for human safety in wildlife-vehicle collisions. To date, the majority of research and evaluation in Idaho has focused on substantiating the need to provide for wildlife crossings and connectivity in relation to big game population movements and wildlife-vehicle collisions and less about research or evaluation of mitigation projects addressing wildlife crossings, connectivity and collisions. We discuss how use of radio telemetry, road kill data, and wildlife crossing and distribution information is being used to inform and substantiate mitigation of highway development impacts. While most examples center on deer and elk, we will also discuss other mitigation taken for conservation purposes of lynx, grizzly bear, and barn owls in the context of working with partners to develop research and roadkill data substantiating mitigation. We will also outline our programmatic efforts to work collaboratively with Idaho Transportation and how this can enhance our efforts to improve monitoring and research to evaluate and improve mitigation effectiveness.
3:40PM Research Drives Designs of Crossing Structures to Move Mule Deer and Pronghorn Across Highways in Wyoming
  Thomas Hart; Scott Gamo
The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) has constructed multiple wildlife crossing features at highways in the western part of the state. To better understand the effectiveness of these structures, WYDOT funded several research projects evaluating wildlife-vehicle crash (WVC) mitigation measures and the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures, specifically along US Highway 30 in Nugget Canyon and US Highway 191 at Trapper’s Point. Both locations bisect mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) winter range and migration corridors. Research in Nugget Canyon began in 1986 with an evaluation of the effectiveness of Swareflex reflectors and animal detection/motorist warning systems at reducing deer-vehicle crashes (DVC). Reflectors and animal detection/motorist warning systems were not effective at reducing DVCs. After installation of 7 underpasses, a 3-year post-construction monitoring study was initiated examining effectiveness of the underpasses combined with approximately 13 miles of continuous game-proof fencing at reducing DVCs. The 3-year monitoring study documented over 49,000 mule deer crossings and an 81% reduction in DVCs. Research at Trapper’s Point studied the effectiveness of an animal detection/motorist warning system located at a migration bottleneck 6 miles west of Pinedale, WY. Similar to Nugget Canyon, the animal detection/motorist warning system was not effective at reducing WVCs. To effectively mitigate the wildlife crossing issue at this location, WYDOT constructed 2 overpasses, 6 simple span bridge underpasses, and approximately 15 miles of game-proof fencing. Findings from the implementation of this project and corresponding research suggest mule deer and pronghorn demonstrated species-specific preferences for crossing structure type where mule deer used underpasses 79% of the time while pronghorn used overpasses 93% of the time. DVCs were reduced by approximately 79% while collisions with pronghorn were eliminated entirely. Finally, developing partnerships and involving interested stakeholders are imperative in achieving success on Wyoming’s wildlife crossing structures projects.
4:00PM Nevada: the Fast Track of Wildlife Road Mitigation and Research in Only a Few Years
  Nova Simpson
In the mid 2000’s Nevada Department of Transportation began to critically assess increasing numbers of wildlife-vehicle collisions. Meanwhile, the Nevada Department of Wildlife was struggling with declines in numerous populations of game species. Both agencies realized there were opportunities to collaborate where their interests overlapped; More specifically, where migratory movements crossed major roadways. Nevada focused its initial efforts on one of the many crossing areas that targeted a population of migratory mule deer that travel 100+ miles and cross US 93 and Interstate 80 twice each year to reach winter and summer ranges. Numerous crossing structures and designs were utilized which required new construction of several overpasses and underpasses, and modifications to existing railroad bridges and low-use interchanges. Research projects at several locations have now shown differences in use and behaviors by wildlife of the different structures. Results from these studies have assisted NDOT in designs and innovative thinking. Nevada is now working on a statewide assessment of wildlife-vehicle conflicts to help prioritize the remaining problem areas, and they continue to work diligently to integrate mitigation techniques into new and existing transportation infrastructure. Multiple partnerships between state and federal agencies, neighboring states, as well as national and local support from special interest groups have been essential. Nevada is an excellent case study showing how a dedicated team of professionals from multiple agencies can work together to decrease fragmentation and maintain sustainable solutions, while being mindful of the unique challenges present at each site and the varying interests and resources of the participating stakeholders. Nevada has proven that there is a way to fast track wildlife road mitigation and research in only a few short years.
4:20PM Arizona Success Stories of Developing Wildlife Crossing Structures and Other Mitigation Based on Research of Elk, Mule Deer, Pronghorn Antelope, and Desert Bighorn
  Jeffrey W. Gagnon; Scott C. Sprague; Chad D. Loberger; Kari S. Ogren; Susan L. Boe
As road networks continue to expand and upgrade, measures to reduce wildlife-vehicle conflict (WVC) and to maintain habitat connectivity are becoming increasingly common options. Understanding which measures are successful or unsuccessful can help expedite the planning process for current and future roadway upgrades. Monitoring enables documentation of successes as well as determining, executing, and evaluating needed improvements through adaptive management. Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) has had a unique opportunity to work with Arizona Department of Transportation and other partners over the past 15 years to evaluate measures to reduce WVC and to maintain habitat connectivity. AGFD has made numerous refinements to road mitigation design and application processes through lessons learned during the evaluation of projects ranging from standard wildlife crossings and funnel-fencing to innovative solutions such as animal detection systems and retrofits of existing drainage structures and simple fence modifications. Projects include State Route 260 and Interstate-17 (deer and elk), US Highway 93 (desert bighorn sheep), and pronghorn in northern Arizona. Examples of monitoring and adaptive management include overpasses, underpasses, animal detection systems, fencing, wildlife crossing guards (e.g. cattle guards, electrified guards), and escape ramps/jumpouts. AGFD has also applied lessons learned through the implementation, monitoring, and adaptive management of mitigation measures to current and future projects in Arizona and other states.
4:40PM The Importance of Data Collection, Collaboration, and Research in Building a Statewide Wildlife and Transportation Program
  Patricia C. Cramer
In this symposium, the attendees will learn how wildlife professionals in 8 states work with transportation professionals to document the need for wildlife to move across roads, build wildlife crossing structures, research those structures, and adaptively management them. The consistent theme in this symposium is cooperation among many partners, including those outside of agencies. This talk will summarize the symposium and the major points. These will include: the collection of data on wildlife-vehicle collisions and wildlife movements and habitat in order to locate where wildlife mitigation is most needed; programmatic efforts for agencies to work together; funding through outside partners; the creation of wildlife crossing structures and fencing that are targeted for specific species; research on the effectiveness of those crossing structures; adaptive management of structures; how research informs engineering designs of future structures; and how states have created statewide programs.

Organizers: Patricia Cramer, Independent Wildlife Researcher, Logan, UT; Scott Sprague, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix, AZ
Supported by: TWS Urban Wildlife Working Group

Location: Albuquerque Convention Center Date: September 26, 2017 Time: 1:10 pm - 5:00 pm