Preliminary analysis of locations where wildlife crosses highways in the Southern Rocky Mountains
Highway/wildlife conflicts are becoming an acknowledged topic of concern for both conservation and transportation planners. Interest in relieving both direct mortality due to animal/vehicle collisions and road-caused habitat fragmentation is growing.However, solving these problems requires detailed information about characteristics of highway segments where wildlife focus their crossing activity. Most studies investigating crossing activity focus on underpass use, often along fenced highways. Therefore, a study investigating free-choice at-grade crossing using tracks to indicate crossing behavior was conducted. Locations where wildlife crossed a 12-mile stretch of highway were recorded for 18 months. Habitat variables associated with heavily used crossing locations and with random locations were then measured and compared. Preliminary results indicate that distinct crossing zones exist, varying in size and intensity of use, and that landscape scale habitat suitability and topographic form, as well as local features including roadcuts and roadside vegetation, play a role in determining where animals cross roads. These results suggest that to be biologically and cost effective, mitigation to reduce conflicts should be designed to accommodate the patterns of crossing activity that habitat features create. Additional analyses of these data provide further information about habitat as a basis for locating and designing mitigation and are anticipated to be available from the author in the near future.