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Listed below are examples of success stories, best practices, and/or innovative tools/approaches. This section will grow as entries are submitted or links to other sites with useful examples are provided. If you believe your agency has utilized a best practice/approach that others could learn from, please submit a short description to AASHTO (including any pertinent links) on the Share Info with AASHTO form. Please note that currently submissions are only being accepted from governmental entities.

Colorado

Agreement Offers Streamlined Mitigation Option for Impacts to Canada Lynx in Colorado

An innovative Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) created by Colorado DOT (CDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) will provide CDOT with a new streamlined option for fulfilling its mitigation responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act as they relate to the Canada lynx (lynx).  In essence, for projects that are determined to have impacts on lynx, CDOT now can propose that it pay an in-lieu fee (ILF) into a Lynx Mitigation Fund rather than carry out mitigation measures onsite. The MOA was signed on July 7, 2015.

 
Colorado DOT’s in-lieu fee mitigation fund will support broad efforts to mitigate impacts to the Canada lynx. Photo: Colorado Division of Wildlife

“We have known for some time that our actions were impacting lynx by increasing the barrier effect of highways,” explains Jeff Peterson, Wildlife Program Manager for CDOT’s Environmental Programs Branch. “However, because our right-of-way very seldom contains usable habitat, mitigation has been challenging.  Choices such as providing safe passage over or under the highway at the site often can end up being more costly than the project itself, and possibly less-effective.”

Under the terms of the MOA, Peterson says, “we can propose using the ILF as our preferred mitigation choice in our Biological Assessment (BA).  USFWS then either agrees or disagrees with our choice in its Biological Opinion (BO). Furthermore, we can propose it under both Section 7 and Section 10 of the Act.” 

From Peterson’s perspective, the new option is a win-win. If the ILF gets a green light for a particular project, CDOT’s ESA responsibilities are fulfilled and it can get on with its project.  And from a species preservation perspective, adding an in-lieu fee to the fund opens up the possibility of using the fund for more strategic and comprehensive mitigation elsewhere in the state.  Although CDOT has not yet had the opportunity to put the MOA to work, Peterson says, his agency is planning a number of projects that are strong candidates for the ILF option.  “And when that time comes -- and I’m virtually certain it will -- we’re ready,” he says.

The lynx is listed as threatened in Colorado. Currently, there are believed to be approximately 200-300 lynx statewide. Peterson says it has been estimated that approximately 670 miles of Colorado highway are located in lynx habitat, and an additional 210 miles or so of lynx movement corridors exist between patches of suitable habitat.

MOA Provisions

ILF contributions to the mitigation fund are based on project “award” costs with the rationale that they represent the most accurate construction cost estimates.  The amount contributed is tied to the type and severity of the impact(s) the project would be expected to have on the lynx.  It is based upon the average cost of mitigation and compliance with the ESA compared to total construction costs (by percent) for past projects that included mitigation for impacts to lynx. Maximum contribution for an individual project is 5 percent.

The fund can be used for a new stand-alone mitigation project or, more likely, to enhance a current project.  For example, if a highway project is in lynx habitat, and mitigation normally would call for a concrete box culvert (CBC) to be installed under a portion of the highway to channel flowing water, the ILF could be used to cover additional costs of building a bridge, which would open up passage for lynx under the bridge.

Under the terms of the MOA, funds can be leveraged, and partnering is encouraged. For instance, the Forest Service may be carrying out a project to consolidate land parcels that includes trading some of its land for private parcels throughout the forest.  If some of those parcels are in an area known to be frequented by lynx, CDOT could partner with the Forest Service so the land on either side of a proposed lynx crossing would be protected from development. 

The MOA calls for two management teams to be created: an Advisory Committee and a Fund Management Team.  The teams are in charge of managing the ILF mitigation process for individual projects. Besides participation on the teams, each of the three lead agencies has additional responsibilities spelled out in the MOA.  For example, CDOT is in charge of setting up the two management teams; FHWA must participate in the development of ESA compliance documents and consult with USFWS on any project that may affect lynx; and USFWS is responsible for providing the most up-to-date information and science available when determining the most appropriate mitigation for lynx.

Benefits, Challenges and Transferability

Peterson predicts that numerous benefits will accrue from using the MOA.  First, there are the direct benefits of enabling projects to move forward efficiently and mitigation efforts to be broader and more strategic for the benefit of the lynx.  In addition, he anticipates that it will also foster increased trust between CDOT/FHWA and the resource agencies.  Other potential benefits may include a more positive public perception of CDOT’s wildlife department and demonstrated success in interagency collaboration.

Challenges in putting the MOA to work remain to be seen.  In the meantime, challenges definitely were encountered in creating and signing off on the MOA.  The first was securing active and substantive support from senior-level management on the concept itself.  Beyond that, obtaining agreement among Regional Managers on the terms of the sliding scale initially was a hurdle. Yet another obstacle encountered was how to account in budgets for moving money from one project into another one that isn’t in the same CDOT region, or perhaps even proposed yet. 

“The good news is that the basic procedure outlined in the MOA can serve as a template for creating a similar document in another state,” he says. “It would be a matter of plugging in state-specific details such as funding sources, maintenance responsibilities, and reporting requirements.  To my knowledge, no one else is using anything similar.”

According to Peterson, perhaps the most important thing to do at the very beginning is to get all the parties together for several informal discussions during which everyone is heard but nothing is yet put down on paper.  The time is well worth it, he says.  Once everyone is invested in the success of the endeavor, the chances of developing the MOA in a spirit of collaboration are much greater.

“But everyone should be prepared for a fair amount of wordsmithing before the document is finalized.  No matter how well everyone gets along, each agency needs to feel comfortable that its mission is protected.  I’d recommend access to a lawyer to help with that aspect; for our MOA, we used the USFWS legal advisor and it worked well.”

Peterson concludes, “At the end of the day, it’s a case of rolling up your sleeves and putting the effort in now to reap benefits well into the future.”

For more information, contact Jeff Peterson, Wildlife Program Manager, Environmental Programs Branch, Colorado DOT, at Jeff.peterson@state.co.us  or visit the CDOT website at www.CODOT.gov/programs/environmental/wildlife.

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Road Ecology Center, UC Davis

Transportation Agencies Test Advanced Imaging for Wildlife Movement

The use of web-enabled cameras to better understand wildlife movements on and near highway rights of way could provide transportation agencies with more timely data, lower costs, and help prevent animal-vehicle collisions.

The Federal Highway Administration is sponsoring research on the use of wildlife cameras that can feed data directly through the internet to a web-database (wildlifeobserver.net).  Transportation agencies would use the proposed system in areas with wired, wireless or cellular system connectivity to track animal movements, verify the effectiveness of protective measures for wildlife, and gather data. Eventually, agencies could use the system “in conjunction with existing traffic camera infrastructure and adding wildlife monitoring to the data stream,” according to the agency.

 
Web-enabled cameras immediately transfer images such as this moose crossing through a culvert on US 91 in Utah. Photo: Fraser Shilling, Road Ecology Center at UC Davis

Working in partnership with the California Department of Transportation and other state departments of transportation, researchers are now further refining commercially-available camera systems to meet the needs of DOTs. The agencies and partners are field testing the camera and database systems to evaluate both their effectiveness in capturing and managing wildlife images and their ease of use.

An integral part of the system is an online database which is set up to receive image files uploaded either by transportation agency staff or directly by the remote, wire­less cameras. The system then automatically creates database records for image files based on information already attached to the file, such as the date and time an image was captured. From there, agency biologists can manage, analyze and share the wildlife images.

Transportation agencies in California, Colorado, South Dakota, Virginia and Utah are field testing the technologies, supported by FHWA’s Exploratory Advanced Research Program (FHWA-PROJ-13-0107).

New Era of Wildlife Monitoring

In an era when most of us have nearly instant information concerning most things in our lives, these types of technologies could “up the game” regarding roadside wildlife monitoring, said Fraser Shilling, the principal investigator on the project,

As compared to cameras and sensors used for monitoring traffic and other environmental conditions, camera methods used by state departments of transportation for wildlife monitoring are quite a bit behind, said Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center located at the University of California, Davis.

That’s why the use of advanced imaging technology such as web-enabled cameras potentially could advance the state of the practice on understanding wildlife movements and roadside ecology, and help improve highway safety. Such technologies are important to transportation agencies and society, with costs of wildlife-vehicle collisions estimated to be in the millions of dollars annually.

A recent report issued by the Road Ecology Center and co-authored by Shilling estimated the cost to society of wildlife-vehicle collisions in California in 2015 was around $225 million. The cost of property damage alone was estimated at more than $88 million annually for the state.

FHWA Supports Research

The FHWA is working with state DOTs to promote their wildlife stewardship and public safety missions. Safer wildlife crossings, for instance, are a key component of the FHWA’s efforts to implement Eco-Logical, the landscape-level approach to integrate infrastructure development and ecosystem conservation.

The EAR project is supporting the field testing of cameras and other low-powered sensor systems or unstaffed sensor technologies that will provide data for project delivery, environmental assessment and decision support.

Currently, state DOT biologists monitor wildlife such as deer, bears, mountain lions, elk, and pronghorn sheep using static camera systems in remote locations, known as camera traps, Shilling said. While static camera traps have been useful for gathering data about what types of animals interact with highways, they have some limitations.

Shilling explained that camera traps require the efforts of staff or contractors in order to retrieve pictures or video. One camera trap can yield around 3,500 pictures per month that must be viewed, sorted and recorded. Spread over several miles, a wildlife monitoring project that includes around 50 cameras could result in tens of thousands of pictures to review. Thus, having cameras that stream data to the headquarters office or a web-connected database such as wildlifeobserver.net would allow DOT staff to evaluate pictures within minutes of the animal being sighted.

Colorado DOT SH-9 Project

The Colorado Department of Transportation has used the web-connected cameras as part of its SH-9 Colorado River South Wildlife & Safety Improvement Project. This 10-mile section of highway near Kremmling had more than 500 wildlife-vehicle collisions in the previous 10 years, mostly elk and deer. To monitor the installed mitigation features, CDOT is working on a monitoring study involving more than 60 motion-triggered wildlife cameras, some of which are connected using cellular phone networks, according to Bryan Roeder, CDOT’s Environmental Research Manager.

“The camera data is critical not only for determining the success of the mitigation, but for adaptive management of that mitigation and applying lessons learned to future mitigation,” Roeder said. “This project is expected to produce about one million photos per year, so we are very interested in the future of automated image analysis processes.”

Using the connected cameras, which instantly send photos by e-mail to project researchers, “is a much more convenient method than traditional cameras,” Roeder said. “The ability to view and share photos within minutes of an animal crossing in front of a camera is valuable.”

Jeff Peterson, Manager of CDOT’s Wildlife Program, agrees. “Because SH-9 is the first project in the state to include wildlife overpasses, we are very interested in how effective they are in facilitating connectivity between habitat areas,” and having instant notification from the web-connected cameras is a key component, Peterson said.

Cost Savings

Another issue that such systems would improve upon is the cost—in time and money—for DOTs to maintain camera traps.

Bridget Donaldson, a senior research scientist with the Virginia Department of Transportation, says she is the only one in VDOT that manages the state’s camera traps, relying on university students for help. She hopes to soon install one of the cameras for Shilling’s field test, but for now it takes time to go into the field and visit each camera to gather data and check on battery life.

There would be “huge time savings involved” with the web-enabled cameras, Donaldson said. VDOT currently has a monitoring project along I-64 near Charlottesville, and the time spent visiting each camera to check the number of stored photos would be significantly less since that data would instead be transmitted to her office. Moreover, researchers would know sooner whether cameras are encrusted with winter road salt or knocked out of alignment by snow plows, she said. In cases where cameras are located at some distance from DOT offices, there is simply the travel time to get there.

Also having to pull over on a 70 mile-per-hour interstate to service the cameras presents issues of safety, Donaldson said.

These types of savings can be coupled with savings to society from avoiding animal-vehicle collisions.

In Virginia, Donaldson mentioned that an area VDOT is monitoring outside Charlottesville has deer-vehicle collisions at an average rate of eight per mile per year. Taking into consideration the drain to the economy and the constant potential for loss of human life, this is a rate that justifies VDOT installing fencing along the highway to lead deer and other wildlife to safer underpasses.

Connect With Public, Other Agencies

Shilling sees data being shared with researchers, DOT staff, and the public. For example, in a situation where a DOT has recently installed wildlife crossings to protect mountain lions, if a camera captured a mountain lion using the new structure, the DOT press office could use pictures from the cameras in a news release issued the next day.

Sharing data with other agencies such as fish and game departments could also improve collaboration between departments, Shilling said, and researchers are investigating the use of image analysis software to automate the identification of common wildlife species. The combination of science and public relations becomes increasingly important as public knowledge and awareness can contribute to safer wildlife interactions within rights of way, according to Shilling.

Lessons Learned

The Road Ecology Center tried developing its own web-connected camera but now is mostly testing commercially available systems, Shilling said. With some of the systems that have been tested, the picture resolution is lower than what biologists typically are used to, which manufacturers say permits faster internet transmission. 

Camera systems will probably continue to improve as more and more—as many as 100 or 200 at a time, by Shilling’s estimate—are purchased and used by DOTs. The companies that manufacture the systems, which can cost between $100 and $1200 apiece, are beginning to take notice, Shilling said.

Next Steps

The FHWA’s EAR project envisions a system for monitoring wildlife in rights of way that “resembles current traffic flow monitoring systems.” Shilling suggested that that creation of wildlife operations centers would “up the game” of wildlife monitoring for transportation agencies.

Using information from the field tests, the researchers will develop short training videos, conduct a webinar, and provide onsite training with DOT staff. The research­ers will then present to the FHWA recommended camera and database systems, along with doc­umentation describing how to acquire, set up, and use them.

Also, the researchers will be writing articles describing both the informatics and camera sampling process for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, the researchers will improve the data associated with the pictures—called EXIF data—to include such information as location and weather. This more complex information will allow biologists and DOT staff to more easily visualize the ecological context of camera placements and will add value to the information being collected, Shilling said.

Information regarding the Road Ecology Center research is available at  https://roadecology.ucdavis.edu/research/projects/remote-wireless-camera-systems-environmental-monitoring-transportation-corridors.

For more information on the web-connected wildlife camera research, contact principal investigator Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center, University of California, Davis, at fmshilling@ucdavis.edu or Deirdre M. Remley, Environmental Protection Specialist/Research Coordinator, FHWA at deirdre.remley@dot.gov

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Washington

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Wisconsin

Relocation of Karner Blue Butterflies

WisDOT Moves Karner Blue Butterflies by the Bushel

US Highway 10 cuts through the middle of Wisconsin, connecting the Fox Valley Cities in Wisconsin with the Twin Cities of Minnesota.  This main traffic artery needed to be upgraded from a two- to four-lane expressway.  Unfortunately, the new westbound lanes cut through a small 1/3 acre patch of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis) and native barrens habitat that was occupied by Karner Blue Butterflies (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) (view a picture of a Karner Blue Butterfly, a federally endangered species.  Recent surveys indicated a population of at least 10-20 adults consistently bred on this tiny patch of habitat. 

WisDOT is part of a multi-partner Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Karner Blue.  WisDOT accommodates Karners along about 500 miles of highway right-of-way in central and northwestern Wisconsin.  After going through the usual mitigation negotiation procedures of avoidance and minimizing, it appeared there was no way this swatch of earth could be spared from the new lanes.  Another question arose as to the future viability of the Highway 10 site for the butterflies.  It was unrealistic that a site this small, surrounded by Eurasian weeds, in the presence of a major highway, would remain viable in the long term.  During the mitigation process, WisDOT began to explore the possibility of moving the butterflies.  Although ideas about moving butterflies had been written about, no one had previously done this in the wild. 

Fortuitously, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) just completed removing brush and most of the trees from an area near Emmons Creek, a lupine barrens community.  Wild Lupine responded very well to the DNR barrens restoration effort, along with several other butterfly nectaring plants, but several surveys indicated that no Karners moved in to take advantage of the restored habitat.  This presented an opportunity to move the Highway 10 population to the newly restored area.  

The easiest way to move butterflies is in the egg stage.  Karners conveniently lay almost all their eggs on the stems of Wild Lupine near the base of the plant.  Methods included marking each Wild Lupine plant during peak flowering period, then after the egg laying period, clipping the Wild Lupine at the base of the stem with either a knife or clippers, gently laying the stems in large plastic bins and transporting the stems to the new site.  The clipped stems were then inserted in the midst of living lupines at the Emmons Creek site.  It seemed fairly straightforward, but there were a few questions.  Would the eggs over-heat in the sun during the move and die?  Would the eggs remain attached for the ride to their new home?  After hatching, would the larva climb from the clipped stems to living plants?  

To help with these potential pitfalls, the bins containing the clipped lupine stems with the Karner eggs were not tightly covered and were shaded from direct sun light.  Fortunately, the weather during egg movement was relatively cool, with cloudy, nearly windless days.  It is believed these weather conditions helped preserve the eggs from overexposure during movement.  Care was taken not to over-pack or crush the bins with lupine stems.  Once cut and placed in the bins, batches were moved within an hour to the new site.  During the clipping portion of the work, a number of eggs were observed (3-6 on some stems) and it was noted that a few larvae had already hatched and were actively feeding on the lupine.  The clipped stems were placed in the middle of healthy plants at the new site with as much contact between each as possible. 

About 120 pounds of stems and leaves were removed from the Highway 10 site.   Once this movement was complete, it was time to wait for eggs to hatch, larva to pupate and form new adults.  About six weeks after the move, surveys were conducted at the new site for adults.  It was very gratifying to report that 42 adults were observed on the new site where none had been seen before.   It appears that the larva did find their way to new lupine stems and successfully pupated to adult butterflies. 

This process may have implications for other butterflies, and perhaps even other insects.   If the host plant and egg laying process is known, capture and release of these species can be quite easy, with minimal disruption to the individuals themselves.   This may also provide a method for population expansion to new areas, or at least within nearby, similar, ecological areas.

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Wyoming

Wyoming DOT Provides Safer Passage Where Highway Meets Migrating Pronghorn

A series of underpasses and overpasses recently completed along a Wyoming highway has improved safety for the traveling public while preserving an historic wildlife migration route for pronghorn antelope and mule deer. Completed in October 2012, the Trappers Point project included design and construction of two overpasses and six underpasses on a 12-mile section of US 191, west of Pinedale.

Each overpass consists of a long-span precast-concrete arch culvert constructed over the highway to provide an artificial tunnel over which wildlife can cross safely. The culverts are surrounded by earth berms supported on each end by large precast-panel retaining walls. The project also includes about 30 miles of special fencing to direct animals to the safe crossings.

Historic Migration Route

In an area known as the Upper Green River Valley corridor, pronghorn travel between their winter range in the high desert, south of Pinedale, and their summer range in Grand Teton National Park. The corridor, which represents the second-longest wildlife migration route in the Western Hemisphere, intersects with US 191 at Trappers Point.

The Trappers Point area was named for the nineteenth-century fur trappers who took advantage of natural terrain that bottlenecks the migratory herds. In modern times, it had become the site of frequent vehicle collisions with pronghorn, mule deer, and other animals.

Seeking to address this concern, a collaborative effort between WYDOT and a number of state and federal agencies and other organizations identified key locations where wildlife crossing structures could be beneficial. To facilitate the passage of pronghorn – which are reluctant to use traditional wildlife underpasses – WYDOT committed to build its first-ever wildlife overpasses.

Trappers Pond Wildlife Crossing. Photo: Wyoming DOT

Locations for the various crossing structures were chosen based on areas with the highest instances of motor vehicle collisions, observations by local game and fish and WYDOT personnel, and studies of the movement of collared antelope and deer.  The agencies also considered the terrain, as well as already-preserved movement corridors, such as public lands or conservation easements.  

Development of the wildlife connectivity plan for the area was a collaborative effort that included the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration. It also incorporated wildlife research from organizations including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and National Geographic.

Focus on Highway Safety

The agencies initially collaborated in an effort to obtain funding for the project under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. When that funding fell through, WYDOT was able to continue the effort by stressing the importance of highway safety: the combined loss of wildlife and property damage to vehicles was estimated at nearly $4.1 million from 2005 through 2009.

Under the focus of highway safety, WYDOT was able to secure the National Highway System federal funds to advance the project, according to Tim Stark, Environmental Services Engineer with WYDOT.  The funds are expected to provide a valuable return. According to WYDOT, “The savings from reducing wildlife deaths and damage to vehicles is expected to exceed the project cost of $9.7 million in 12 years.”

Monitoring Shows Promising Results

The project already has proven to be beneficial for thousands of animals that have found their way safely across the highway. The most recent monitoring, conducted between Oct. 1 and Dec. 15, 2012, used remote cameras to document 8,878 mule deer and pronghorn moving through the new crossing structures.

Wildlife crossings help pronghorn safely cross the highway. Photo: Wyoming DOT

These results were particularly encouraging by demonstrating pronghorn’s use of the overpasses. Of the 8,878 animal crossings, 2,442 were pronghorn and 6,436 were mule deer. While most mule deer moved through the underpasses, 92 percent of the pronghorn used the overpasses. “The Trappers Point overpass is so well designed and so well suited to accommodate pronghorn migration, that we observed pronghorn using the overpass even before completion,” Jeff Burrell, Northern Rockies program coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a release. Stark said WYDOT will consider lessons learned from the Trappers Point project in planning for future efforts to ensure the safety of travelers and wildlife.

The Trappers Point project has received numerous awards, including the Wyoming Engineering Society’s 2012 President’s Project of the Year and the Federal Highway Administration’s 2011 Exemplary Ecosystem Initiative award. A National Geographic video featuring the project also is posted on the WYDOT website.

For more information on Trappers Point and other wildlife protection projects, visit the WYDOT Wildlife and Fisheries website, or contact Tim Stark, WYDOT Environmental Services Engineer, at timothy.stark@wyo.gov or by phone at 307-777-4279.

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FHWA Compilations

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CEE by AASHTO Stewardship Competition

Best Practices in Stewardship Competition

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Forest Service Compilation

Wildlife Crossing Toolkit (USDA-FS)

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Featured Case Study

  • Case Study Photo

    Transportation agencies are testing web-enabled cameras that allow immediate access to photos, such as this moose using a culvert under US 91 in Utah.

    Read Case Study >Photo: Fraser Shilling, Road Ecology Center, UC Davis

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