Traffic Volume Alters Elk Distribution and Highway Crossings in Arizona

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Abstract

ABSTRACT  We used 38,709 fixes collected from December 2003 through June 2006 from 44 elk (Cervus elaphus) fitted with Global Positioning System collars and hourly traffic data recorded along 27 km of highway in central Arizona, USA, to determine how traffic volume affected elk distribution and highway crossings. The probability of elk occurring near the highway decreased with increasing traffic volume, indicating that elk used habitat near the highway primarily when traffic volumes were low (<100 vehicles/hr). We used multiple logistic regression followed by model selection using Akaike's Information Criterion to identify factors influencing probability of elk crossings. We found that increasing traffic rates reduced the overall probability of highway crossing, but this effect depended on both season and the proximity of riparian meadow habitat. Elk crossed highways at higher traffic volumes when accessing high quality foraging areas. Our results indicate that 1) managers assessing habitat quality for elk in areas with high traffic-volume highways should consider that habitat near highways may be utilized at low traffic volumes, 2) in areas where highways potentially act as barriers to elk movement, increasing traffic volume decreases the probability of highway crossings, but the magnitude of this effect depends on both season and proximity of important resources, and 3) because some highway crossings still occurred at the high traffic volumes we recorded, increasing traffic alone will not prevent elk-vehicle collisions. Managers concerned with elk-vehicle collisions could increase the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures by placing them near important resources, such as riparian meadow habitat.

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