The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Division of Wildlife Resources are getting a better grasp on the frequency and details of wildlife-vehicle collisions across the state, thanks to a mobile application developed by Utah State University (USU) researchers.
Traditionally, UDOT contractors would record on paper the location of an animal carcass to the nearest highway mile marker and submit the data to be entered into a spreadsheet. The process resulted in errors from semi-legible notes, and weeks could elapse before the information became available to transportation and wildlife officials.
“It was my job to make sense of all of it, but it was really hard,” said Daniel Olson, the USU wildlife biologist tasked with sorting through all of the hand-gathered roadkill data for his dissertation.
As a result, Olson says, the app was born out of necessity and to increase efficiency and accuracy. He and his colleagues designed an app that seamlessly loads GPS-tagged entries into a central database that can be accessed through a website, both in text and map form. As a result, those in the field can more accurately record the precise location of each carcass, in addition to the species and gender of the animal.
During the first year testing the app, the contractors conducted twice-weekly patrols over 1,700 miles of roadway, or about 4 percent of the state’s roads. They logged 6,822 carcasses—85 percent of which were mule deer—according to the results published in the June issue of the Public Library of Science journal “PLoS One”.
Olson reports the app reduced the normal data entry error rate—about 10 percent—to virtually zero, while location errors decreased by 99 percent. The increased efficiency also saved about 150 hours of fieldwork.
In addition to revealing accurate numbers of wildlife fatalities, USU Research Assistant Professor Patricia Cramer said the app could aid transportation managers to identify areas prone to collisions and adjust accordingly.
“The roadkill app has really helped us see where the hotspots are and where there might be holes in the fence,” she said. “So we’ve actually gone and followed the data that shows where the animals are getting onto the road and getting killed, and then looking for the holes in the fence and fixing them.”
For the present time, the app is available only to UDOT, DWR and research officials who collect the carcasses, though that might change in the future.
“If we want a complete handle on what’s happening,” said Olson, “we’ll need to extend it to citizen scientists.”