ISLAND PARK – Countless cell phones on the ground and twenty four satellites orbiting 12,550 miles up in the sky have been connected via the Internet as part of an inventive project underway in Island Park, Idaho to help figure out a way to decrease automobile accidents resulting in deaths of wildlife and humans.
This joint project between the Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD), Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) will combine observations collected the old fashioned way through the tracking efforts of volunteers with highly specific data collected via radio collars tied into Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. This information will be combined with images and information inputted by the general public onto the Internet to help better understand wildlife behavior around roadways and identify landscape features that create successful or unsuccessful crossing points along Highway 20 in Island Park.
Last February, IDFG placed GPS collars on 30 cow elk and 26 cow moose. Data collection has been ongoing to see where these collared animals move back and forth across the highway. Volunteers have patrolled the route to see what animals have been killed and where animals that may have been uncollared crossed the road as well.
According to University of Montana graduate student Nick Sharp, “The goal of this project is to not just indentify where animals cross the highway, but the quality of the crossings. We want to learn what makes a good place to cross versus a place where animals end up as roadkills and automobiles are damaged.” The study will also hopefully provide more insight how various species react to the noise and movement of traffic.
While state agencies and a private wildlife organization are using a variety of methods to collect the majority of the information on this project, the public has an important role it can play. According to Sharp, “Thanks to the new wildlife reporting website and the new smart phone technology, images collected by the public of wildlife killed on the highway and live animals moving nearby can be included in the project as well.” The latest generation of “smart” cell phones is able to automatically record the location of pictures and transmit the information onto a specially designed website.
The newly created Idaho Fish and Wildlife Information System (IFWIS) website is available for the public to enter information about roadkills or sightings of live wildlife and upload GPS location tagged pictures. This information will add another layer of citizen science to that tracking information already being collected by the Idaho Master Naturalists, a cadre of dedicated volunteers trained to assist in multiple facets of the project.
“Every year there are over 30 collisions between wildlife and vehicles in this section of Highway 20,” says Sharp. “This information collected during this joint project will be extremely valuable to managers trying to determine ways to improve human and wildlife safety not just along Highway 20, but elsewhere.”
To enter information and pictures about wildlife along Highway 20 create a free IFWIS account at: http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/ifwis
Gregg Losinski at 208-390-0635 for information