With some states easing COVID-related travel restrictions and closures, many outdoor enthusiasts are gearing up to get back outdoors with friends. The pandemic is far from over, of course, and social distancing presents a real challenge on narrow, often crowded trails. One sport that requires that protective bubble of space? Road cycling. Starting June 18, Adventure Scientists is offering a way for cyclists in Montana to get an outdoor cycling fix while simultaneously helping their communities and contributing to science.
Adventure Scientists is looking for volunteer cyclists for a scientific research project that can help save wildlife and human lives. Volunteers will cycle sections of Montana roads at set periods throughout the summer and fall, using a simple phone app to record data on wildlife sightings and roadkill along their route. This information, collected across more than 11,000 miles of Montana roads, will help highway and wildlife officials understand where wildlife are crossing roads and identify wildlife-vehicle collision hotspots. Ultimately, this will inform state-wide efforts to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions – an issue that results in more than 365 million animals killed, 29,000 humans injured, and $8.4 billion in damages incurred annually in the United States alone.
Relying on road cyclists is not only a unique way to address the wildlife-vehicle collision problem; it’s also far more effective than car-based data collection. By traveling more slowly and quietly than vehicles, cyclists are more likely to see both roadkill and live animals. “[Cyclists] have a unique perspective… that allows us to see things that other people are not noticing,” says Tim Marchant, describing his experience volunteering during the fall 2019 season. “I highly recommend it to folks. It’s a nice way to use the bicycle for productive purposes.”
A real-time dashboard lets volunteers and others track observations made by project cyclists.
For Dylan Malloy, volunteering changed his perspective when he’s behind the wheel as well as on his bike. “Even driving, I’m paying attention to… the [crossings] that wildlife are around,” explains Malloy, a cyclist who volunteered in Fall 2019. “Montana is this huge expanse of area, and there’s really not a ton of those crossings designated for animals.”
Routes shown in green on this map are available for volunteers to select. Red indicates already-claimed routes.
At a time when field research around the world has largely been brought to a standstill due to travel restrictions and social distancing requirements, cycling Montana roads gives volunteers a chance to help advance science that not only benefits their communities but can be scaled up to help reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions worldwide. The project also provides cyclists with new ways to keep up with fellow cyclists who share an interest in making Montana a safer place for people and wildlife. Throughout the duration of the three-year study, volunteers can track data in real-time as it is submitted, chat with cyclists across the state via an online forum, and engage in socially-distant opportunities to connect with fellow volunteers on the project.
Learn more about the project, check out our FAQs, or read our Q&A post to find out about the surprise wildlife sightings and other experiences of two of our 2019 volunteer cyclists.
Cycling Montana roads, would you expect the most road-killed animals to be snakes? Or that animals would be hit on just one side of the road? Read on to learn more about what it was like for 2019 volunteer cyclists Dylan Malloy and Tim Marchant to collect data for Adventure Scientists on their respective rides.
The cyclists volunteered as part of a four-year scientific research effort to help save wildlife and human lives by reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. This summer, volunteers will ride 50-mile sections of Montana roads at set periods, recording data on wildlife sightings and roadkill along their route. This information, collected across more than 11,000 miles of Montana roads, will help highway and wildlife officials understand where wildlife are crossing roads and plan ways to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Q: What inspired you to participate in the Wildlife Connectivity study?
Dylan: As someone who is into conservation and is an advocate of being outdoors, and trying to find ways to help the community and spend time in a productive manner, this [study] checks a bunch of boxes. You get to get outside and exercise, you can volunteer, and it just seemed like a fun idea.
Tim: Normally when I go out, I’m interested in training and going as fast as I can. Of course, this was quite a bit different than that. You had to plan to stop regularly, which is not something I would normally do on a forty-mile bike ride. It’s a nice thing to not be hammering all the time. We have a unique perspective on the side of the road that motorists don’t, that allows us to see things that other people are going too fast [to see], or not noticing. I highly recommend it to folks – it’s a nice way to use the bicycle for productive purposes.
Tim: We rode the first 20 miles, and didn’t see a single dead thing, which was very odd. If somebody told me, ‘Oh, I bicycled highway 200 today, 20 miles, and didn’t see any roadkill,’ I would have thought they were lost or something. Then we turned around, coming back to the east, and [the road] was just lined with roadkill. Sometimes every couple hundred yards we were stopping to photograph and get a GPS location for something. We ran across virtually everything. We saw deer in various states of decay, birds, birds of prey, rabbits, pheasants. We saw a bear. It was quite the experience.
Q. Any other stories to share?
Tim: I was riding my bike the other day, out by Charlo, Montana. There’s a vehicle coming toward me, and as I got within a few yards, a deer stepped out in front of [the vehicle]. I thought – I’m going to get cleaned by this deer after he hits it. You could just see the angle, and it was like setting up a pool shot – I was going down. He managed to slow down and miss it, but I’ve had a couple experiences like that – where I’ve nearly been hit by deer while on my bike, or almost hit by deer that have been hit by other vehicles. So, I’m anxious to see if we can come up with data that can mitigate that.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about applying to volunteer?
Dylan: I’d tell them to go all in. I’d tell them my stories – being outside, feeling connected with the process of being outside and just having a fun purpose to get outside and ride. You can make a day out of it, pack a lunch, go out for a nice cruise, you get to see the hills, the mountains, the wildlife, and then at the same time you’re helping provide information to improve on what we do now. It’s just a super fun way to do the things that you already love to do, and also have some more meaningful impact.
Tim Marchant’s volunteer work was also featured on Montana Public Radio. Listen or read here.
About the Wildlife Connectivity Study:
Wildlife-vehicle collisions kill more than 365 million animals, injure 29,000 people, and cause $8.4 billion in damages each year in the United States alone. Montana has the second-highest incidence of collisions in the nation. From 2019-2022, Adventure Scientists volunteers will cycle 11,000+ miles of Montana's roads, recording all roadkill they encounter as well as detailed environmental observations. Learn more.
Call for volunteers: Adventure Scientists is seeking volunteer cyclists to apply to participate starting June 18.
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