WCS Idaho Department of Fish and Game to identify migration routes of moose and elk across US-20 in Island Park area of Idaho

BOZEMAN, MT (October 21, 2010) –The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) today announced their participation in a three-year collaborative study in Idaho’s Island Park area to better inform decision making with regard to wildlife related hazards and improved safety on US Route 20 and Idaho Highway 87.

The study will focus primarily on moose and elk behavior and their movements across US Route 20—a busy north-south thoroughfare referred to as “the longest main street in America.” Between the cities of Ashton and Island Park, U.S.20 was the site of 169 recorded collisions resulting in the fatalities of moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer, in addition to millions of dollars in collision damage to vehicles, between 2005 and 2009.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions are not the only significant threat that roads pose to wildlife. They can also impede migrations, subdivide animal populations and habitat, and cause animals to alter foraging and mating behavior.

“Roadways are one of the biggest threats for wildlife populations in the 21st Century,” said Wildlife Conservation Society North America Program Director Jodi Hilty. “Fortunately, advances in the science of road ecology as well as new tools can help us address both greater human safety and wildlife conservation priorities in new and existing roadways.”

As part of the study, IDFG will capture elk and moose and outfit them with collars that carry a global positioning device. The device will record animal locations via satellite and allow scientists to track migration routes from their winter refuge in the St. Anthony Sand Dunes and Sand Creek Wildlife Management Area of Idaho to their summer feeding grounds in the Island Park Caldera and Yellowstone National Park. This information will be used to identify migration corridors, wildlife movement patterns, and preferred road crossing points, and ultimately to inform mitigation measures to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.

“This will be the most detailed data ever collected on elk and moose in the Sand Creek/Island Park area of Idaho, and should provide a wealth of information on seasonal movements, survival, behavior around roadways, and road crossing sites that will be used to better manage these species and improve human safety along U.S. 20,” said Idaho Fish and Game wildlife biologist Shane Roberts.

To augment telemetry data obtained from the radio collars, a more low-tech approach will identify where non-collared animals cross the road. As part of the ongoing research, WCS has recruited volunteer “citizen scientists” to conduct surveys for animal tracks alongside U.S. 20 and to report wildlife seen on the highway.  

WCS has long been involved in researching the role that linear infrastructure such as pipelines, railroads, power lines, and roadways play in negatively affecting wildlife populations and in documenting the critical need for biological corridors—passages used by migrating wildlife in their search of food, mating opportunities, and available habitat.

Stephen Sautner: (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)
Scott Smith: (1-718-220-3698; ssmith@wcs.org)

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

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