Date of Award:

2013

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

John A. Bissonette

Abstract

Roads are essential in modern societies, but as populations grow and traffic volumes rise, roads will continue to be built and expanded. As a result, the effects that roads have on wildlife will likely intensify, making it imperative that managers understand those effects so mitigation can be directed accordingly. In Utah, considerable areas of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) habitat have been bisected by roads. Mule deer are commonly involved in vehicle collisions and there is concern that roads and vehicle traffic are impacting populations. This project was conducted to determine the number and demographic effects of deer-vehicle collisions, to examine how movements and survival of deer were impacted by roads, and to develop a smartphone-based reporting system for wildlife-vehicle collisions. Accurate estimates of DVCs are needed to effectively mitigate the effects of roads, but great uncertainty exists with most deer-vehicle collision estimates. I estimated the number of deer-vehicle collisions using carcass surveys, while accounting for several sources of bias to improve accuracy. I estimated that 2-5 % of the statewide deer population was killed in vehicle collisions annually. The effect that vehicle collisions have on deer abundance depended not only on the number of deer killed but also on the demographic groups removed. I found that 65 % of deer killed in vehicle collisions were female and 40 % were adult females. As female deer are the primary drivers of population growth, my data suggest vehicle collisions could significantly affect population abundance. However I was unable to detect a decreasing trend in deer abundance. Deer have distinct movement patterns that affect their distribution in relationship to roads. I analyzed deer movements during two consecutive winters (2010-11 & 2011-12) to determine what effect climate had on deer movements and vehicle collision rates. I observed that as snow depth decreased, the distance that deer occurred from roads increased. As a result road crossing rates declined, as did the number of vehicle collisions. This suggests a causal mechanism by which winter conditions influence vehicle collision rates. Currently there is a need for an efficient wildlife-vehicle collision data collection. I envisioned and, working with colleagues, helped develop a smartphone-based system for reporting wildlife-vehicle collision data. The WVC Reporter system consisted of a mobile web application for data collection, a database for centralized storage of data, and a desktop application for viewing data. The system greatly improved accuracy and increased efficiency of data collection efforts, which will likely result in improved mitigation and ultimately increased safety for motorists and deer.

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