A GIS-based identification of potentially significant wildlife habitats associated with roads in Vermont
Since 1998, issues regarding wildlife conservation and transportation planning and development in the State of Vermont have become part of a rigorous collaborative effort between the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (Department) and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (Vtrans). In recent years, these efforts have become increasingly sophisticated and more broadly applied throughout the state to understand better the inherent conflicts and strategies for improving wildlife movement, reducing wildlife mortality, and improving the safety of the traveling public. Given the growing investment of interest and resources by these state agencies, it is necessary to identify potentially significant wildlife-linkage habitat (WLH) throughout the state. Such information would allow for these agencies to make informed decisions regarding the conservation of important WLH and investments for mitigation of impacts associated with transportation such as underpasses, land conservation, and other measures. Geographic Information System (GIS)-based models have been developed in other states and in Canada to identify potentially significant WLH. Many of these projects have relied on landscape-level GIS data such as development density, habitat conditions, topography, among others. This project was designed to develop a GIS-based analysis using landscape-scale data to identify or predict the location of potentially significant WLHs associated with state roads throughout Vermont. This project relied on available GIS data including: (a) land-use and land-cover data; (b) development- density data; and (c) contiguous-habitat data (unfragmented habitat). The GIS conserved lands data was also used as a way of analyzing the feasibility for conserving or ranking potentially significant WLHs identified as a result of this project. These data were classified according to their relative significance with respect to creating potential WLH. The elements that comprise the overall GIS data layers were ranked in accordance with their relative significance to creating potential WLH. In addition, we developed a comprehensive, centralized database of all wildlife road mortality, wildlife road crossing, and related habitat data for all species for which data exists throughout the state of Vermont. This involved updating an existing database developed for a complimentary project designed to compile all existing data on black bear road mortality, road crossing, and significant habitats. It also included incorporating all data on moose collisions and deer collisions. In addition, new databases were created to record existing bobcat, amphibian, and reptile information. In order to expand and improve wildlife road-mortality data, this project developed a partnership with VTrans field staff enabling them to record a new array of wildlife road-mortality information in a consistent and reliable fashion. The analysis, in conjunction with the newly updated wildlife road-mortality data, provides a scientifically based, planning tool that will assist both agencies in understanding and improving their abilities to conserve wildlife in Vermont with respect to transportation planning, permitting, and issues regarding secondary growth.