A new app will help citizen scientists map wildlife migration routes
Wildlife conservation groups have created an app for citizen scientists to help data collection efforts on animal movements across Montana. One of the goals of the program is to prevent wildlife collisions on roads and train tracks.
The Wildlife Xing app allows vehicle passengers to enter information on sightings of wildlife, whether dead or alive. The app originated in Canada, but the National Wildlife Federation has updated it for Montanans to collect information and better understand wildlife migratory routes.
Morgan Marks, with the Montana Wildlife Federation, says it can take decades for biologists to get this information on their own.
“Citizen Science could help us get this work done faster,” Marks said.
Nationally, drivers in Montana face the second highest odds of colliding with wildlife, according to a State Farm analysis. Once the National Wildlife Federation has a map of migratory hot spots, the group plans to present the information to the Montana Department of Transportation and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks in the hopes that wildlife bridges or underpasses might be built in those places.
Fencing paired with highway underpasses can be effective tools to help prevent collisions with wildlife. Naomi Alhadeff, Montana Education Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, notes one species that is an exception.
“Pronghorns are really at a disadvantage because they evolved to be able to see predators from many miles away so they actually won't go into an underpass,” Alhadeff said.
Montana has the second highest population of pronghorn across the species’ range. Alhadeff says data from the app could be of particular interest in finding solutions along the Hi-Line because the region is dense with pronghorn.
Montana is home to one wildlife bridge, on highway 93: a partnership between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Montana Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration. Overpasses can cost between $1 and $7 million. Every vehicle collision with wildlife can cost between $6,000 and $30,000 in damages.
There is a new pot of money for these kinds of road safety projects. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $350 million toward the Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program, funding projects across the country.