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A SUMMARY OF THE WILDLIFE LINKAGE AND HIGHWAY SAFETY ASSESSMENT: A PRIORITIZATION AND PLANNING TOOL FOR WESTERN MONTANA

  • Author(s): Betsch, Julie K.
  • Olimb, Sarah K. F.
  • Taylor, Dylan W.
  • Williamson, Elizabeth R
  • et al.
Abstract

Protecting habitat connectivity for wildlife is a management imperative facing agencies and wildlife organizations across the United States. To maintain connectivity and improve highway safety across transportation routes in western Montana, American Wildlands conducted a rapid wildlife linkage and highway safety assessment. This analysis had two primary objectives: 1) to provide a planning tool to direct American Wildlands’ conservation efforts for protection of habitat connectivity across transportation routes; and 2) to provide data and information useful to agencies and other conservation partners. This assessment used four criteria to identify priority areas: i) road kill concentration areas, ii) important wildlife linkage areas, iii) planned transportation projects, and iv) land ownership as an indicator of the likelihood of conservation success. To complete the analysis, kernel density estimation and percent volume contours were used to identify high concentration areas where there is a dual concern for wildlife and human safety based on elevated numbers of road kill. Additional GIS data sets were used to further prioritize the potential priority areas. This process resulted in improved understanding of the road kill concentration areas in western Montana as well as a planning document which can be used by both public and private sector entities to improve local and regional planning and coordination. Critical to the success of this project was an engaged advisory group and a focus on delivery of the analysis results and products to the agencies and other partners. To ensure that advisory group members, representing their respective organizations, endorse and utilize the analysis results in their planning processes we actively encouraged and incorporated member input into the analysis process and data products. Delivery mechanisms (hard copy reports, GIS data, and web access) were agreed upon by the advisory group and are available with the final report. Continued collaborative efforts between public and private entities will be essential to ensure the appropriate level of conservation dollars and effort to meet protection needs in the identified priority areas. Since the western Montana study can be considered a pilot for a possible statewide initiative, the lessons learned may be used to create an improved product at the statewide level. Additionally, we propose this model be considered for application to other western states in need of a wildlife linkage and highway safety planning tool.

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