The California capital city of Sacramento was host to the Tenth Biennial International Conference on Ecology and Transportation (ICOET) held from September 22 to 26. 570 delegates from 19 countries attended the four-day conference, including six staff members from Wildlands Network who attended and presented at three sessions. Topics at the conference ranged from camera trapping workshops, wildlife crossing structure design and public policy and legislation.
The rapidly evolving science of road ecology is attempting to reduce the impact of roads and railways by using crash analysis and GIS modeling of landscape variables that naturally funnel animals towards point specific places in their daily and seasonal movements. Progress is being made in identifying locations where the highest likelihood of wildlife collisions is predicted to occur. High quality, science driven data, can help to influence public planning and legislation and result in bringing about the increased utilization of wildlife crossings, fencing and other proactive mitigation methods.
Phil Carter, Wildlands Network Wildlife Policy Coordinator based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, co-chaired a panel on the New Mexico Wildlife Corridors Act with three other members of a New Mexico delegation. For many scientists, policy presentations are usually relegated to back-seat status, but this was different. The spirit of cooperation seen between Jim Hirsch (New Mexico Department of Transportation), Mark Watson (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish), and Michael Dax (Defenders of Wildlife) in trying to do something proactive and cooperative for their home state was a breath of fresh air and an inspiration to all who attended the session. The love of their state’s natural resources, one that transcends politics and agency affiliation, was an example that we hope more can follow.
Wildlands Network Chief Scientist Ron Sutherland presented on their ongoing post-monitoring on evaluating the efficacy of enhanced wildlife bridge infrastructure in Durham, North Carolina. Highway engineers made modifications to two bridges in order to facilitate safer wildlife passage beneath them. Initial results indicate that the bridges have enabled substantial usage by wildlife such as deer and coyotes.
Western and Mexico Program Director Juan Carlos Bravo closed the session by providing an update on Wildlands Network’s Mexico Highway 2 project in Sonora, Mexico. The project inventoried over 700 existing drainages and bridges in order to inform efforts to retrofit existing structures to create wildlife crossings. He also presented results from the second yearlong roadkill monitoring surveys identifying sections of the highway that concentrate more wildlife records. The first camera-trap records of cougar, bobcat and other wildlife using these drainages provided some nice pictures of Sonoran wildlife to the participants.
The constant, daily stress exerted upon wildlife and biodiversity by roads cannot be ignored. In the United States alone, there are nearly 4 million miles of paved roads and an estimated one to two million large animal wildlife vehicle collisions a year resulting in hundreds of human fatalities. By mid-century it is estimated that there will be 25 million kilometers (16 million miles) of paved roads globally. Beyond roads and mechanized ground transport, numerous presenters at the conference emphasized that other types of linear infrastructure such as power lines, canals and border walls also have far reaching ecological effects. With the data collected from projects like in North Carolina and Mexico, Wildlands Network hopes to identify and quantify wildlife vehicle collision hotspots and to plan and mitigate for accordingly to reduce these conflicts.