Wildlife-vehicle collisions are costly and dangerous to both people and animals. Approximately 2 million wildlife-vehicle collisions occur annually. Of the 50 states, Montana ranks second in the highest likelihood of vehicle-animal collisions. Of particular concern are large ungulates such as elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) whose large body size can cause significant damage to vehicles and bodily injury to motorists. To mitigate this risk, the Montana Department of Transportation has constructed wildlife crossing structures across some of the state’s highways. Previous studies in Montana have leveraged GPS collar data and live observations to determine where wildlife regularly crossed highways, therefore identifying areas for potential crossing structures. However, these studies did not incorporate remote sensing products in their analyses. Remotely sensed imagery can help wildlife managers better understand which landcover types that elk prefer and location of specific landcover types, which likely influences where elk tend to cross highways. In this study, we explore suitable locations for an elk wildlife crossing structure along the US Highway 89 corridor in southwest Montana, the gateway to northern Yellowstone National Park. Initial analysis has revealed that the majority of elk crossings and elk-vehicle collisions occur along a segment of US Highway 89 during the winter months. Building on these findings, we leveraged classified NAIP aerial imagery and elk GPS collar data to determine the location of preferred elk habitat zones though a habitat selection analysis. We then performed a cost connectivity analysis to link together the highly preferred habitat zones on opposite sides of US Highway 89. This workflow determines potential locations for wildlife crossing structures using a combination of remotely sensed and locational data. Collectively, this workflow aims to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions near one of the nation’s most visited national parks and is repeatable at other sites in western North America.
Wildlife movement: connectivity, safety, across eco-tones