Monitoring Species’ Activity
Before coalition partners can begin increasing highway safety for animals and humans alike, states’ Departments of Transportation need scientific data to make informed plans. Steve Goodman, Volgenau Wildlife Research Fellow with National Parks Conservation Association, and Dr. Liz Hillard, wildlife scientist with Wildlands Network, have been conducting field research to evaluate how roadways outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park influence the connectivity of black bear, white-tailed deer and elk habitat.
While these three native species are the primary focus of the study, the researchers are collecting data on many other smaller species, including bobcat, coyote, red and grey fox, North American river otter, and less common species, such as Eastern spotted skunk and long-tailed weasel.
To understand how wildlife is moving in the Pigeon River Gorge roadways, coalition partners have employed a multi-faceted research approach to:
- Assess wildlife use of existing structures
- Assess wildlife road mortality
- Assess wildlife activity within the highway right-of-way
- Identify and predict elk road crossing locations using movement information from GPS-collared elk
The research goal is to provide a framework that identifies areas along the interstate where mitigation strategies such as fencing and road crossing structures could be best implemented to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions and increase wildlife habitat connectivity.
Once the coalition is able to report definitive data from this ongoing, current research project, we will share it here, as well as via the Safe Passage email newsletter.
The most effective way to create safer roads for wildlife and people is building wildlife crossing structures or improving existing human-built structures. Structures such as overpasses and underpasses with fencing allow wildlife to get over and under roads safely so they can access critical resources they need in order to thrive. In turn, this reduces wildlife-related collisions, ensures healthier wildlife populations and saves taxpayer dollars.
Animal Road Crossings Solutions and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation note that the costs of collisions to society often outweigh the costs of building wildlife crossing structures.
This research helps us:
- Educate and raise awareness about wildlife collision prevention and the importance of reducing the “barrier effect” of roads to ensure sustainable wildlife populations and ecosystem resiliency.
- Evaluate wildlife use and mortality patterns along roadways in the Pigeon River Gorge.
- Identify habitat conservation and management projects that improve wildlife movement.
- Recommend and prioritize projects to create safe passage for wildlife and safer roads for motorists.
- Encourage and support community members to integrate wildlife movement needs into transportation projects, land use, and land management.
- Collaborate with engineers to design cost-effective crossing structures.
- Convene stakeholders from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, nonprofits, recreation interests, and private landowners to achieve safe passages.
- Build financial support for safe passageways.
Help Fund the Solution
Donations to Safe Passage are vital to connecting landscapes and making roads safer for wildlife and drivers. Your support helps fund research-based road improvements incorporated into planned highway repairs. These may include bridge extensions, culverts, overpasses, and fencing to guide animals to crossing structures.