Date of Award:

2006

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Natural Resources

Department name when degree awarded

Wildlife Biology

Advisor/Chair:

John A. Bissonette

Abstract

My work focused on the study of road effects and mitigation of negative impacts of roads on wildlife. Two different studies were conducted on Interstate 15, in southern Utah. My first study reported on road effects on small mammal communities. The results suggested that overall, there was no clear effect on small mammal populations relative to distance from the road. Most small mammal species did not appear to be negatively affected by the presence of the road. Instead, the road seemed to have either a neutral or a positive effect. The abundance and diversity of small mammals responded more markedly to microhabitat than to the presence of the highway. I suggest that other factors such as water runoff during rainy periods may be responsible for the detected patterns by increasing primary productivity in areas close to the road. I conclude that roads may often provide favorable micro-habitat in the desert landscape for many small mammals and that the disturbance caused by the highway use (e.g., noise, road surface vibration) seemed to have a negligible effect on these organisms . My second study examined the effectiveness of a mitigation strategy to reduce mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) road mortality. Mitigation included exclusion fencing, earthen escape ramps, and underpass crossing structures . Results comparing mortality data before and after the mitigation showed 76-96% reductions of deer vehicle collisions. There was no evidence that the mitigation caused "end-of-the-fence" problems, i.e., higher mortality at the ends of the exclusion fencing . Results from underpass camera monitoring showed an increasing deer use of the underpasses over time. The volume of crossings recorded on new underpass structures approached the volume of crossings observed in a 20-year-old control underpass. My results suggest that human use and location of structures influenced deer use of underpasses. Overall results show that the mitigation strategy was effective and has reduced the number of deer-vehicle accidents while allowing easier wildlife movement across the landscape. I presented future maintenance recommendations to assure a long-term success for this strategy.

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