Montana State University

Leader in road ecology to speak at MSU

March 27, 2007 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service

Interest in road ecology has grown steadily in the past ten years. This wildlife overpass in Banff National Park is one example of the principles of road ecology at work. (Photo by Tony Clevenger.)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
There are 4 million miles of roads in the United States, enough to put 1.2 miles of road on every square mile of the country. Spread across the nation, roads act as barriers to wildlife, change water quality and disrupt natural vegetation.

"The public takes for granted our efficient road system and are generally oblivious of the long-lasting and damaging effects they have on water, vegetation, wildlife and soils," said Tony Clevenger, a senior research scientist at Montana State University's Western Transportation Institute.

The study of how roads affect the environment - road ecology - is only about 10 years old but is blossoming into an active area of research. MSU's Western Transportation Institute has an active road ecology program that has been steadily growing over the years.

On Thursday, March 29 at 7 p.m., the institute will host one of the world's foremost authorities on road ecology, Richard Forman, for a free public lecture at the Museum of the Rockies.

Forman is the Professor of Advanced Environmental Studies in Landscape Ecology at Harvard and author of "Road Ecology," considered the discipline's landmark text. He has been quoted by the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Independent, of London.

"Richard was one of the first to identify roads as a sleeping giant in terms of their ecological impact," said Clevenger, who co-authored "Road Ecology" with Forman.

"He saw this as a fertile new ground that was untouched by academics, government scientists or conservation organizations," Clevenger said. "His call to action has resulted in more informed scientific and transportation communities and significant changes in transportation practices."

One example of that change is Clevenger's own project in Canada's Banff National Park. Clevenger has been conducting long-term research around two wildlife overpasses and 22 underpasses built in the late 1980s and '90s to keep motorists from colliding with the park's abundant wildlife. The park is now home to the largest and most diverse collection of wildlife crossing structures in the world.

There has been so much demand for education in road ecology that MSU offered what may be the very first road ecology course in the nation this semester. Taught by civil engineering professor Pat McGowen and WTI ecologist Dan Smith, the course covers impacts, modeling and mitigation for air, water, vegetation and wildlife. It is an interdisciplinary course for transportation engineers, ecologists and anyone else interested in the effects of roads on the environment.

"Getting a perspective across disciplines is important," McGowen said. "When these students become professionals they will find that ecologists and engineers interact frequently when working on transportation projects. Having an understanding of the other profession's motivation, training and information sources is crucial to developing a more sustainable transportation system."

Contact: Rob Ament, research coordinator, Western Transporation Institute, (406) 994-6423 or