The Nature Conservancy is spearheading an initiative to determine how transportation infrastructure, land-use planning, and habitat protection can facilitate species migration in the Lake Champlain basin.
“The goal is to provide safe passage for species—a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert,” said Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “Where are the most important habitat linkages and how do we work do we protect them? To date, we’ve raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort.”
Roads, culverts, and dams can contribute to habitat fragmentation, which can become perilous to wildlife by cutting off opportunities for populations to mix and breed and move between breeding, nesting and feeding grounds. Improvements to transportation infrastructure and informed land-use planning, however, can help prevent ecological islands from forming, thus, promoting genetic exchange, as well as providing room for species and natural communities to shift and adapt to climate change.
Preliminary studies point to the southern headwaters region of Lake Champlain as a key linkage between the Adirondacks and Green Mountains. High-probability movement corridors for black bear, American marten, and bobcat have already been identified there—through the use of a sophisticated computer modeling program. Barriers have also been identified the same way. This Champlain Valley project is now advancing to the next step: testing the model results against on-the-ground surveys and observations.
It is one of six projects to benefit from a $1 million grant awarded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program toward a multi-state effort across the Northern Forest. Staying Connected in the Northern Appalachians—a collaboration of government agencies, researchers, and non-profit organizations—aims to maintain, enhance, and restore habitat connectivity for 41 wide-ranging and forest-dwelling species of concern to help mitigate the impacts of habitat fragmentation and climate change.
Elsewhere in the Lake Champlain basin, with funding from a second SWG grant and an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Conservancy and transportation partners are identifying barriers within aquatic ecosystems that can result in altered habitat structure, hydrology, connectivity both for species movement and ecosystem processes like flooding, and the transport of materials such as sediments, soil, large wood, and nutrients. Some of the work will entail looking at constrictions caused by culverts along Lake Champlain tributaries like the Boquet, Saranac, and Upper Winooski Rivers, as well as smaller streams that provide habitat for salmon and species of conservation concern. Once identified, the partners will determine how best to alleviate blockages and promote fish passage.
"With the Conservancy’s mapping and modeling work, this project will help us understand how and where we can make improvements that will benefit wildlife as part of our routine highway maintenance activities,” said Gary McVoy, Director of Operations Division with NY State Department of Transportation.
“The Nature Conservancy seeks to leverage its substantial conservation investment in the Champlain Valley over the last three decades by linking key habitats that would give species the elbow room they need. People in the Valley will benefit, too, as ecosystems sustain important species tied to economic livelihoods and outdoor pursuits.” said Mr. Carr.
The Northern Forest spans two countries, four states, four provinces and 80-million acres; it contains rare alpine vegetation, at-risk species, old-growth forests, large unfragmented forest blocks, high quality rivers and streams, and 5.4 million people. While largely intact compared to other forests of its type across the globe, the Northern Forest is not immune to the significant challenges posed by fragmentation and climate change. Staying Connected in the Northern Appalachians will focus on six vulnerable areas where landscape connectivity for wildlife is at risk: 1) Tug Hill Plateau – Adirondacks (NY); 2) Adirondack Mountains to the Southern Green Mountains (NY-VT); 3) Taconic Mountains to Southern Green Mountains (NY-VT); 4) Northeast Kingdom across northern New Hampshire to western Maine (VT-NH-ME); 5) Northern Green Mountains (VT – Canada); and Maine’s North Woods to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula (ME-Canada).
Transportation agencies from across the four-state region are participating in the project to help identify and incorporate recommended habitat linkage retention and improvements as part of road maintenance/upgrade work planned for 2009-2014 along priority habitat linkage segments. The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide.
The Adirondack Chapter, based in Keene Valley, New York, has protected 571,000 Adirondack acres since 1971. The Chapter is also a founding partner of High Peaks Summit Stewardship Program and the award-winning Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program. On the Web at www.nature.org/adirondacks.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.