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Montana student researcher tracks wildlife on the highway

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BOZEMAN, Mont. - Whisper Maillet is spending her summer in sand. The
27-year-old Montana State University graduate student documents wildlife
tracks through sand beds along U.S. Highway 93 through the Flathead Indian
Reservation in western Montana.

Maillet Pend O'reille Indian and member of the Confederated Salish Kootenai
Tribes, is conducting research as part of a fellowship for tribal members
offered through the MSU-based Western Transportation Institute and the
Wildlife Conservation Society.

She is researching landscape characteristics that may influence where deer
choose to cross U.S. 93, which runs north-south through the Flathead Indian
Reservation.

"The goal is to record animal tracks in sand beds which are alongside the
highway," said Maillet, who commutes to her research plots from homes in
Bozeman and Missoula. "Soon, I will be recording site characteristics of
these locations that will correlate the number of deer tracks and their
selection of specific crossing areas and landscape characteristics."

Study sites were determined from Montana Department of Transportation
road-kill data from 1999 - 2002. On her daily sand-bed inspections, she
finds animal tracks and sometimes, dead animals such as skunks, deer, bear,
birds and snakes.

"I feel that it is important to make the highway safer for drivers," she
said, noting that several agencies are involved in the ultimate goal of
reconstructing U.S. 93 that will include wildlife crossings - one overpass
and numerous underpasses. "It is also important to improve for wildlife the
connectivity of the land bisected by the highway."

Maillet is working on a master's degree in Fish and Wildlife Management.