Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hillmapping Wildlife Crossings in Mongolia

Photo courtesy of the Montana Department of Transportation. Click here for more wildlife crossing photos.

Last week the Billings Gazette carried the story, Mongolian Officials Look to Montana Wildlife Crossings as Model. Wildlife crossings are usually bridges, culverts or underpasses that allow wild animals to cross busy highways without tangling with oncoming cars.  Good for the animals and good for drivers.

Apparently, the Trust for Mutual Understanding is funding a project to be proactive about protecting critical wildlife habitat in Mongolia's Oyu Tolgoi, an area that is quickly developing due to an enormous and expanding copper mine.

I had no idea where Oyu Tolgoi was, vaguely knew it was in/near the Gobi Desert, so I plotted it in hillmap.

Oyu Tolgoi is in South Eastern Mongolia, in a sparsely populated region.  On the map you can see how few roads cross the terrain.  If you zoom in even farther, you can see the rock outcroppings and sandy or rocky surface.

Many rare and some endangered species live in this region.  Preserving habitat is not necessarily enough to protect wildlife: areas of habitat need to be connected so that animals can roam to areas of connected habitat to find food, water and safe places to live and breed.  Acting now, as the Oyu Tolgoi region develops, could help preserve the connectivity of habitat to reduce the impact of mining and development on wildlife.

Montana has been on the forefront of implementing wildlife crossings on Highway 93 to protect bears, deer, motorists, and other animals.  According to the Montana Department of Transportation, Highway 93 has the "most extensive wildlife-sensitive highway North America," with over 76 miles of reconstructed road.

If you take a look at the Bitterroot Valley in the map above, you can see why this area is ideal for testing wildlife crossings: two mountain ranges (one of them in the gigantic Selway-Bitterroot wilderness area) are separated by a rural valley cut in half by a 4+ lane highway.  Not too different from the vast areas near Oyu Tolgoi that are split by large roads.  

Preliminary results of the wildlife crossing experiment are available for the Northern section of 93 from Evaro to Polson, MT.  One interesting finding is that more animals used the wildlife crossings to cross 93 in that area than crossed the highway in that area before the crossings were built.  The MDT counted 8,555 deer and 259 black bear used the crossings in 2011-2012, however, only about 1,732 deer and 109 black bear crossed the highway per year in that area prior to construction.  Very interesting.  

In true Montana spirit, so the story goes, a bull moose was the first to use the Evaro overpass.
I think this is a satellite view of the Evaro overpass.


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