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VERMONT AGENCY OF TRANSPORTATION WILDLIFE CROSSING TEAM; BUILDING AN INTER-AGENCY PLANNING TOOL TO ADDRESS ECOLOGICAL CONNECTIVITY IN VERMONT

  • Author(s): Slesar, Chris
  • Morse, Susan C.
  • Austin, John M.
  • et al.
Abstract

Wildlife movement and related road crossing strategies are becoming an increasingly important factor in the development of transportation projects in Vermont – whether these projects involve reconstruction on existing alignment or new construction. The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife (VDFW) have identified wildlife movement and habitat connectivity as important factors to consider in the transportation project development process from three perspectives: human safety, environmental stewardship, and fiscal responsibility. Moreover, we have begun to construct wildlife crossing structures, in collaboration with VDFW, in some recent transportation projects. Unfortunately, there is a lack of wildlife road crossing data to support the inclusion, location, design, and construction of these crossings in many parts of the state. Currently, much of the information that is used in the design and location of wildlife crossing structures is from an existing database of road crossing and road mortality information for white-tailed deer, moose and black bear that is maintained by the VDFW. To assist in making, and implementing, these sometimes very expensive project decisions, VTrans desires to have a resource review team to gather wildlife movement, habitat and road mortality data relevant to specific projects. VTrans, in collaboration with VDFW, Keeping Track, Inc., and Jim Andrews of Middlebury College, has developed an inter-agency Wildlife Crossing Team. The primary objective of this initiative is to develop a data gathering protocol to assess habitat fragmented or otherwise affected by Vermont roads, and to train a group of VTrans staff to utilize that protocol as a project planning tool. The goal of this effort is to gather sufficient data regarding wildlife movement and habitat conditions, in the early stages of the transportation project development process, to make substantive recommendations, in conjunction with VDFW, to project managers and designers so that wildlife movement and ecological connectivity can be considered in the design and construction of appropriate VTrans projects. Through this process wildlife movement and habitat connectivity can become an integral part of the environmental review process at VTrans – similar to how historic, archaeological, and other natural resources are considered. It is hoped that this effort will take wildlife movement and habitat connectivity beyond an issue of compliance and become a more standard consideration for transportation projects in Vermont where appropriate. This paper will discuss the development of this inter-agency wildlife crossing team.

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