App identifies high-risk pronghorn crossing sites

The citizen science program, which uses a smartphone app and online mapping tool, is modeled after RoadWatch BC

Drivers in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan are always on the lookout for wildlife.

A research project launched last fall now wants to know what they see and where.

Pronghorn Xing is a citizen science program that uses a smartphone app and an online mapping tool to identify where pronghorn and other deer species are located. It is modelled after RoadWatchBC.

Pronghorn are of special concern because they are considered a sensitive species that face considerable stress when trying to cross highways, said Megan Jensen, program co-ordinator.

The idea is to collect data over the next three years with a view to developing strategies to help wildlife cross highways and reduce collisions.

Jensen noted a 2008 Alberta study found that wildlife collisions were costing about $240 million each year.

The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation says in 2016 there were at least 11,000 wildlife collisions, keeping in mind that not all are reported.

“Our focus area right now is southeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan,” Jensen said. “One of our main focus areas is Trans-Canada Highway 1 but we’re looking for data collected in all of that area.”

Data is coming in but hasn’t yet been analyzed.

To use the app, Jensen encourages passengers to download it from the App Store or Google Play and record the vehicle’s route and any wildlife sightings. She said the route function is important because it will more accurately pinpoint the location through the phone’s GPS.

If the driver is alone, Jensen recommends using the online mapping tool on the project website when the vehicle is stopped.

The wildlife can be trying to cross the highway, walking parallel to it, or dead from a collision. The idea is to find out where they most try to cross highways and then recommend mitigation strategies.

“It’s a unique conservation opportunity where the citizens can be involved and hopefully get passionate about that,” said Jensen.

Some of the same organizations involved with wildlife-friendly fencing are part of this effort but Jensen said this project is examining mitigation.

For example, Wyoming has invested millions in overpasses to help pronghorn cross particular highways, and that could be an option in certain areas of high concern.

Jensen said pronghorn are worth conserving because they are at the northern edge of their range on the Prairies. They are the second fastest land animals in the world and the fastest in North America. They are sensitive to extreme weather events and can get stuck in fields if they can’t get under fences.

“We’ve seen it take four days for a pronghorn to cross the highway,” she said. “We need ways to make it easier for them and safer for us.”

Populations are currently stable but are susceptible because of these sensitivities.

More information and the online tool can be found at pronghornxing.org.

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