Report strives to make roadways safer for wildlife

“Critical Paths” suggests easy fixes at key Green Mountain crossing sites

03-03-2010 // Aislinn Maestas

With a goal of making it safer for wildlife to cross Vermont’s expanding network of roads and streets, several organizations have teamed up on a plan that addresses key animal crossing areas along the spine of the Green Mountains.

“Critical Paths: Enhancing Road Permeability for Wildlife in Vermont” focuses on how roads affect habitat and animal behavior and what can be done to create safer road crossings within core wildlife habitat. The report is a partnership between The National Wildlife Federation, Vermont Natural Resources Council, U.S. Forest Service - Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife.

Animals like bears, moose, frogs, salamanders, bobcats and coyotes need to travel just like humans do, and they often use well defined paths,” said Chip Knight of the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center. “Increasingly, those wildlife paths are intersected by our own busy highways, which prove problematic to both animals and humans.”

Knight said the Critical Paths report looks for affordable, common sense strategies to make existing road crossings safer and friendlier for wildlife. The report highlights 11 critical crossing zones in the Green Mountains and suggests ways to make those crossing areas safer.

The Critical Paths report was unveiled to local citizens and planning boards at a technical assistance workshop held last month in Rochester at the Green Mountain National Forest ranger station. More than 25 people attended the workshop or dialed in to a conference call to gather information on how to improve the priority crossing zones outlined in the report.

One of the aims of Critical Paths is to assist in the execution of Vermont’s State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) that specifically recognizes the effects of roads on wildlife habitat, and identifies the need to prioritize road crossing areas for wildlife. “Another aim of the project is to help communities implement the recommendations of the Critical Paths report, and we have resources to help with land use planning and road improvement strategies,” added Jamey Fidel of Vermont Natural Resources Council.

“Safer road crossings are a high priority for us,” said Rob Hoelscher. Wildlife Program coordinator for the Green Mountain National Forest. “This is exactly the kind of practical work we need to do to help wildlife move across the landscape and adapt to a warming world."

A second phase of the Critical Paths project is in the works that focuses on road crossings between the Worcester Range and the Northeast Kingdom. Field surveying to identify wildlife pathways is currently underway and will continue through winter and spring.

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