New available science for wildlife connectivity

National Parks Conservation Association

Federal lands are separated by highways all over the west.  Those highways are a barrier to many species of wildlife, including species listed under the Endangered Species Act and those identified as Species of Conservation Concern (SCC) in national forest planning. Climate change is recognized as increasing the importance of wildlife movements.

Forest Service planning regulations pertaining to designation of SCC require consideration of all threats to the species’ persistence in the plan area, whether or not the threats occur within the plan area or are the result of national forest management.  Often, significant threats to these at-risk species come from outside of the federal lands; one of these is the effect of highways on connectivity.   The Forest Service could improve prospects for some species to persist in the plan area by making it easier for them to get to and from it.  They can do two things to promote that.  They can 1) collaborate with other agencies managing land, wildlife and transportation to identify the most important areas to jointly manage for connectivity, and 2) manage their lands in or near these areas to minimize barriers to wildlife movement, first by recognizing them as such in forest plans.

There’s a new tool from the Center for Landscape Conservation that could help with identifying the important areas consistently across the west.  As with any newly available science, the agencies involved should be looking at this mapping tool and determining whether and how they will use it, and ideally documenting the rationale, especially for disregarding this new information.  National forests should be checking their forest plans to see whether their assigned management areas would make these connectivity areas less attractive to wildlife movement, and amending plans as needed.

The study that produced these maps also found that “1,523 of the CC (“collision and connectivity”) segments (338 mi) have enough collisions to make it more cost-effective to build a wildlife crossing than to do nothing,” and land management agencies should support such efforts and manage their lands to facilitate their use by wildlife.

7 thoughts on “New available science for wildlife connectivity”

  1. It appears we have many urgent priorities for federal fund s these days. Listening to the Federal Reserve Chairman on 60 Minutes the other night it seems that some are concerned with the rising national debt. How does this rate in the priorities.

    • They make the argument that in the right places these improvements can pay for themselves by reducing costs to people. Of course the distribution of costs and benefits is not the same, and the savings don’t go back to the Treasury. But, priorities should also reflect the value of the human lives saved and the preservation of wildlife species.

  2. I met wildlife highway crossing while working on the Snoqualmie Pass Adaptive Area.

    Never was a fan of highway crossing. I was familiar with the crossings in the Baniff area earlier and my career and they didn’t work.

    However, the the toll on wildlife species is incredible. At Snoqualmie Pass the Washington Department of Transportation set up a perfect killing zone for raptors. They had two lanes in two components that backed up the National Forest and the medium was kept mowed and provided perfect mouse habitat.

    For a couple of years in the 1990’s the Spotted Owl population was declining due to highway deaths!!! In a room of wildlife biologists I suggested that the Forest Service advise WSDOT that we wanted the speed limit dropped to 35 MPH.

    The most, rabid deep ecology wildlife biologists would not go there!!! There are things in America that are “sacred” and one of those is driving 80 mph on the interstate!!!

    I did attend a presentation by a Forest Service wildlife biologist out of Missoula that chewed out the Forest Service biologists for fooling around with timber sales that had no effect and ignoring the highway system that goes through our National Forests. Most biologists just won’t go there.

    The one exception, was Patty Garvey-Darvy Darda. She said the problem was that wildlife crossings were too SMALL to function. They need to be large. She did get the requirement into the Snoqualmie Pass Adaptive Management Area EIS.

    And then WSDOT when they went to SIX lane I-90 with the approval of the environmental community. Yeah, wrap your head around that one!!!

    To WSDOT credit, they decided to build the wildlife crossings. The Forest Service had a permit and easement on different parts of the interstate, so I think they decided it was easier and cheaper to build the wildlife crossings than fight it in court. Good decision.

    People should search for video’s on the wildlife crossings since they are so successful that everybody claims credit for them!!!

    Patty Garvey-Darda deserves all the credit for getting those standards into the EIS and holding tough when the WSDOT came to expand I-90.

    She did convince me that wildlife crossing work. She also convinced me that I should like my wildlife crossings BIG and EXPENSIVE.

    There is nothing cheap about saving the planet.

  3. We’re working on 3 wildlife crossings in northern Arizona on the Coconino and Kaibab NFs. These have been “in the works” for well over a decade now, but have finally got some traction based on the expected costs savings to people and local municipalities resulting from vehicle/wildlife collisions. We’re planning to clear all 3 crossings through NEPA, but currently only one of the crossings is funded and in design.

    I led the scoping process for the wildlife overpasses, which was picked up in the local news and shared widely in the regional news market. I received hundreds of comments back. Well over 90% supported the crossings, many based on their own experience with hitting an elk on the highway in these areas. Most concerns identified from scoping included the need for other locations to also be on the list for wildlife crossings. The majority of folks who were opposed to the project felt that it was unnecessary waste of taxpayer money and the funding used to pay for the crossing construction should be used for other purposes, such as forest and paved road maintenance.

    I found it interesting that the cost issue seemed to be the driver to actually make this project happen, but it seems that for the large majority of folks, the economics was the least important issue.


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