Across Montana, Cyclists Ride for Science to Save Wildlife and Human Lives
September 2, 2020
Volunteer road cyclists are taking to roads across Montana in a new scientific effort that can help save wildlife and human lives by reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Adventure Scientists, a Montana non-profit that recruits outdoor adventurers to collect scientific data, is deploying hundreds of road cyclists to record wildlife sightings and roadkill across 11,000 miles of Montana roads. There is an upcoming study period from Sept. 18 through 27 and there are many unassigned routes in eastern Montana, specifically around Glasgow.
The cyclists use a smartphone app to capture key information––including species information, GPS location, photos, road conditions, and nearby signs or bridges––that highway and wildlife officials can use to identify wildlife crossing hotspots and plan ways to reduce collisions, such as adding signs, warning lights or potentially even larger infrastructure like overpasses or underpasses.
Wildlife-vehicle collisions kill more than 365 million animals, injure 29,000 people, and cause $8.4 billion in damage each year in the United States. With its abundant wildlife and vast natural habitat, Montana is a hotspot for these accidents, recently ranking as the number two state in the nation for per-capita collisions between car and animal.
Road cyclists might seem like an unusual group to collect data about motor vehicle collisions, but they can be much more effective at seeing wildlife and roadkill, since cyclists move more slowly and quietly and have a better view into roadside ditches compared to those traveling by car.
Each team of two or more cyclists rides a 50-mile stretch within any of four 10-day ride periods each year. They can join with others to split the route into smaller segments. The preset ride periods help ensure the data is not biased by factors like weather or seasonal changes.
Since the project began last fall, cyclists have ridden more than 3,000 miles and recorded almost 2,000 wildlife and roadkill observations. The last ride period of 2020 runs from Sept. 18 through 27, but the project will start up again next spring and continue through 2022.
This new data will fill significant gaps in the information Montana Department of Transportation and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks previously had available to guide decision making. The prior database only included records of vehicle-struck animals that are the greatest hazard to road safety – mostly whitetail and mule deer. The agencies will now have more context to understand why particular areas could be collision hotspots, since the cyclists will provide data on more species, where live animals congregate along roadways, the presence of fence lines, surrounding topography, nearby rivers or ponds, and more.
In addition to helping state agencies reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on existing roads, the information can be used in new road planning. In addition, the data will be open-sourced and accessible to everyone, enabling private landholders and county agencies to supplement their local knowledge to identify and better understand wildlife crossing hotspots in areas they manage.
Anyone can apply to volunteer or learn more at adventurescientists.org/ride .