Biology Study May Help Prevent Roadkills
January 30, 2012
Students Jacy Hyde, left, and Akane Gunterman check one of the wildlife cameras.
SAN LUIS OBISPO — Wildlife in San Luis Obispo County is getting a boost from research performed by biology students working with Professor John Perrine. Caltrans has commissioned the students to examine the effectiveness of a fence it recently erected to keep wildlife off Cuesta Grade, north of San Luis Obispo.
As it moves people north and south, Highway 101 cuts through a major east-west migration corridor for large animals such as bears, mountain lions, deer and wild pigs. The top of Cuesta Grade is one of the most popular places for animals to cross the highway, which can lead to high numbers of roadkill. Caltrans hopes the fence will direct animals to safe crossing places, thereby reducing roadkill while allowing necessary migration patterns to continue.
The fence includes six-foot-high jumpouts so that animals that do make it onto the highway can get out. It also contains gaps to provide necessary local road access. Perrine and his students are monitoring animal activity at these locations using motion-activated infrared cameras provided by Caltrans.
"The research helps us better understand the movements and behavior of these populations and will allow us to take steps to maintain their genetic health," said Jacy Hyde, a senior biology major and team leader on the project.
To prevent the gaps from becoming entrances, they are outfitted with electromats, electric cattle guards that emit a harmless shock when animals step on them. The cameras have captured pictures of bears being turned back by the electromats, though the guards may not deter other animals as effectively. Deer have been photographed successfully using the jumpouts.
A deer uses one of the jumpouts in the fence along Highway 101.
"Our ultimate goal is to not have as many dead bears and dead mountain lions," Perrine said. "If these technologies don't work, we need to know they don't work so we don't fool ourselves into thinking we've helped wildlife."
The students also set up cameras in nearby culverts and underpasses to determine whether wildlife go underneath the highway as an alternate route.
Hyde sees the research contributing to her future professional goals. "I gained valuable field experience that has greatly improved my chances of getting hired once I graduate. As the student coordinator of the project, I also gained leadership skills," Hyde said.
Perrine sees the study as a win for everyone involved — students, management agencies and wildlife. "Students get real-world experience using technology to collect and interpret data. They use science to help conserve wildlife. Management agencies often lack the resources to do these types of studies with their existing staff. And local people and wildlife benefit from reduced roadkills — nobody wants to hit a bear on the Grade."