These kids and their creative teachers are working on a multi-year project, which they call Critter
Control, to record and map the locations where forest animals are being killed by motorists along a deadly section
of US Hwy 40. The road, which runs through the dense forest of Colorado between the towns of Craig and
Steamboat Springs, is one of the states
for deer, elk, and other species which are mowed down in appalling numbers each year. The data that these kids collect
about the roadkill will lead to appropriate placement of warning signs for motorists driving along the most dangerous
stretches of the highway, and possibly suggest locations for culverts, tunnels and other means for the animals to to
safely cross the road.
The data, which is collected during class field-trips, includes the GPS map
coordinates and other information which is gathered at the scene. When gathering data, the children don reflective
clothing for safety, and handheld GPS devices to obtain location coordinates, then climb aboard a school bus which
proceeds down the Hwy 40 route. When a dead animal is spotted, the bus is stopped, and the children climb out and take
When they get back to the school, the children record their data on a
which runs the length of one of the school's hallways. This technique helps give the students a good perspective on the
data while it's being collected. The data is also stored electronically, using a Global Information System
(GIS) software package called ArcView.
The teachers for these classes attended a course in using ArcView GIS software during the summer of 2001, and are now
using it to record and store the data in something called an ArcView "layer", which is analogous to a layer in
graphic-editing software. Each layer, including the layer which specifies the exact path of roads and highways, lays
over the base geographical map of a given area. When the roadkill layer is shown with the road layer, trends can be
observed which help decide the preventive measures. The GIS data is eventually provided to the US Forest Service, which
makes the final decision regarding these measures. The Forest Service uses ArcView software for many of its
involving elementary students. Everything from birds nests to climate change is being monitored using GIS and GPS in
classrooms across the US.
In coordination with the field trips,
are taught to the children, which help them to understand mapping and geography principals. While GIS
software like ArcView isn't very easy to use, the students are learning about mapping and being given a taste of
spatial statistical analysis. Spatial statistics in the forest, which we've
in limited terms, is a complex science. But the hallway-length visual aids and class field trips for this project give
the students a good introduction to the process.
The small community of Hayden has also been quite happy to see the project under way, although there was apparantly some
initial doubts over whether such a project could provide meaningful instruction to children in this age group. The
local animal authority and residents are helping out by placing markers and providing notifications about the latest
sightings. Naturally, some of the reports are first-hand accounts. When they began the project, according to
one of the teachers, they thought that, "the kids would be scared by roadkill, but it was the opposite - what
they (the kids) see is a problem that they want to help solve." Presumably, it changes the dynamics of
teaching when the students know that their results will be utilized directly by the Forest Service, as well.
The ArcView GIS Mapping courses, software, and GPS devices for the project have been provided by the
Orton Family Foundation,
which funds other elementary and secondary-school research projects around the US.