Ontario Turtle Tally
Urban Turtle Initiative
Healthy Water - Wildlife
Turtle Island Conservation
March 20-22, 2007
Consolidated by H. Marcks
Day 1 Session:
Impacts of Transportation Infrastructure on Wildlife Populations & Ecosystems & Techniques for Mitigation
March 20, 2007
Question/comment from the floor
Response from the panel and floor
Is there much of a volunteer effort with the Lake Jackson ecopassage project?
There is a fair amount of volunteer effort in the Tallahassee area, however several individuals are needed to consistently monitor the fencing and it is difficult to find people to do this. For the Lake Jackson project, Florida Department of Transportation has provided state prisoners as volunteers for labour to fix the fencing. The prisoners seem to enjoy the work and find it rewarding.
There are several examples of volunteers becoming involved with ecopassage and wildlife habitat projects. One such example is in southwestern Alberta, where a program called Road Watch has been designed to collect, analyze and communicate volunteer data in the Crowsnest Pass. Through the use of the internet, interested citizens can participate in data collection highlighting wildlife crossing locations along Highway 3. Highway 3, which runs the length of the Pass, is a major transportation route and wildlife mortality, due to collisions with vehicles, has been identified as a major human-safety and wildlife-conservation issue.
Most of you have mentioned how important it is to get the public on your side. Public tax payers would rather have money allocated to other causes like hospitals, so how do we get them on our side and where is our target for money?
You have to justify putting in ecopassages and find ways to connect with the public. Since many people get injured in animal-vehicle collisions, a good initial approach is the safety issue. Most people injured by animal-vehicle collisions will visit a doctor or hospital, which will cost tax payers money. Ecopassages will also cost money but they are a preventative safety/conservation measure for both people and animals, and can save money in the long run. It is best to take a proactive approach and put in ecopassages now because it will be more expensive down the road.
There are different funds available; look everywhere for funding, from the local level all the way up. Habitat connectivity studies are necessary before you put in the crossings, so look to habitat connectivity, restoration and other project funds that are available. Also look at Canadian policies and make sure that there are items in place to ensure that wildlife are taken into account with planning. Keep in mind that budgets for transportation are huge. The amount of dollars that are put into each transportation project is phenomenal, so while the cost of an ecopassage may seem expensive to us, in actuality it is only a small amount when looking at the big picture. Work with the individuals at the ministries to change minds about including wildlife into transportation planning.
We need to identify the appropriate people to target to affect change on roads. In Ontario, who should we target specifically?
Targeting transportation and planning departments at the municipal level can be effective because municipalities have jurisdiction over more kilometers of road than the provinces. However, the provincial level should also be targeted because municipalities just don't have a lot of money, with the exception of large cities which generally have less wildlife.
Farmers, highway people, construction workers, loggers etc., should also be targeted to effect change. When speaking to these people, though, it is hard because we're talking about peoples' livelihoods and dealing with peoples' value systems. Species-at-risk is one way of attracting resources but although people are drawn to target species, the solution should be broader and deal with the health of the landscape. We should speak about biodiversity with endangered species as a component; that it is in our best interest to ensure ecosystems maintain integrity over time. It is also better to keep with the big picture because not all projects/targeted species (i.e., rattlesnake) will receive support.
We need to start looking at terrestrial ecosystems like aquatic ecosystems - flows of habitat across the landscape, including movement of species and genes. In Ontario we are looking at Natural Heritage Systems, defining systems based on existing and potential habitats.
Another good reason to start habitat connectivity analyses and looking at natural heritage systems is climate change, because wildlife are going to start moving in ways we haven't seen before. We need models to prioritize, and we need to anticipate changes that may occur as a result of climate change, such as future changes in migration and dispersal habits. In Scotland they are looking at habitat connectivity and are planning ecopassages with anticipation of climate change effects and in response to the effects already seen on insects.
Looking at forest patches in a landscape, what single road variable would you choose for future research, road density or minimum distance to a road?
It really depends on the species that you are studying but look at multiple scales because you might be surprised by which variable will affect a species. Another variable to consider is road intensity, which is a combination of density and distance.
Use a modeling approach that assigns a value to points in the landscape and then combine with road density, distance relationship and usage; i.e., a metric that combines all variables into one.
What are the fundamental habitat and wildlife data to collect in pre-, mid-, and post- construction phases?
It depends on your approach: if you're dealing with a target species or group of species, what scale(s) you're looking at, feasibility/land ownership, what money is involved, what your objectives are, etc.
Generally, some factors that you may want to focus on when collecting data are: population dynamics, genetic variability (i.e., gene flow), home range, species' behaviour (e.g., road avoidance?, pulses of movement - i.e., seasonal and diurnal patterns) and habitat selection. In the pre-construction phase, collect spatially accurate collision data, using GPS to record locations and take advantage of road crew connections to collect data. Collision data will help target 'hot spots'.
However, roadkill numbers may not necessarily represent a preferred wildlife crossing location but could simply represent an area where wildlife are more / most vulnerable to collisions. [see also discussion for next question]
Is there any opportunity to partner with the people who are scraping up road kill? There is a good opportunity for a possible database if road workers collected this data.
This is a great opportunity, but you need to sell the idea to them first. It must be a partnership that you take time to establish. It also requires time to train people in data collection/using a GPS, and road workers can have a high turnover rate so it will require continued effort to train people. Plus, the area has to have a policy of picking up road kill in the first place.
In eastern Kemptville, Ontario they are teaming up with road crews to collect data on Blanding's turtles and in British Columbia, the Ministry of Transportation administers the Wildlife Accident Reporting System (WARS) where maintenance contractors record information on wildlife related accidents.
However, it is dangerous to assume that the locations of current highest road kills indicate where the passages should be constructed. It may be the case that there is a high amount of road kills because there is a larger population there to begin with. Sometimes the passages should be placed where road kill used to be, because species may return there. This must be taken into account.
It seems that we're playing catch up in Ontario and Eastern Canada. Is there a landscape approach that allows you to do a coarse scale analysis and then fine tune it with ground truthing?
Look at where it's feasible to put in crossings. We're not always talking about public land [i.e., consider current land ownership], and watch out for lands that may get developed 10 years from now. These areas must be secured before passages are put in [i.e., take pre-emptive measures].
How do dams fit into conservation as aquatic barriers?
Dams and weirs are aquatic barriers and their removal is important in reconnecting rivers and streams. Fish ladders, or fish passages, are structures that have been implemented around human-made barriers such as dams and weirs to assist the natural migration of fish. Most fish ladders enable fish to pass the barrier by swimming and leaping up a series of relatively low steps in the water. Improper culverts can also be barriers to the movement of aquatic species and restrict their access to important rearing areas. In Saskatchewan and British Columbia, they are doing interesting things for passage with pipes.
Has anyone seen any success with road bundling or decommissioning of roads?
More roads are being made than decommissioned, and because gravel roads are considered a safety hazard for school buses and personal vehicles, there is a lot of pressure to have gravel roads paved, which isn't helping the situation. It's important when dealing with a road decommissioning to have more than just an ecologist involved; to have the support of people in varying roles.
In Point Pelee National Park, a section of the road has been closed at the park's tip and access is now only by the park's transit system. In addition, the removal of the east and west beach roads, as well as the main park road, has been completed.
Wildlands CPR is a good resource for road topics and road decommissioning. Their website www.wildlandscpr.org has various resources, including reports, publications and a bibliographic database dedicated to roads. Wildlands CPR resources also include a poster titled How to Get a Road Closed in a National Forest, which has a flow chart showing steps to getting roads closed.
[see also: Schaffer, R. National Forest Service Road Decommissioning: An attempt to read through the numbers. http://www.wildlandscpr.org/WCPRpdfs/FSDecom.pdf]
Are there contractors or commercial operations that can provide mitigation structures or that would be willing to invest in the development of new road ecopassage/mitigation products?
URS is a big firm in the U.S.A. and Canada that would be knowledgeable about building under or overpassages. However, the exact firm may not be important in developing ecopassages because the concepts are pretty basic and based on previous knowledge.
What does not work as mitigation?
Fencing works but requires a lot of maintenance. While more expensive, concrete structures are better because they are more permanent and don't require the constant maintenance and upkeep that fences need. Bridges with stream flow and wide built up banks are also the best for your money as they account for the landscape and can be used by multiple species. For culvert retrofit projects, baffles are okay but never include baffles in new passage designs because they convert water flow and create turbulence.
There are many factors such as temperature, light, substrate, moisture and size/openness that may be critical in determining whether wildlife will use a passage and it is still difficult to design a passage that certain species will use. The passages need to be designed with the animal's view in mind. Mixed use passage structures for people and wildlife are also problematic and some wildlife won't use a passage that is being used by humans. Although expensive, viaducts are also an excellent and multi-purpose option.
Are there road maintenance practices that impact wildlife crossings?
Snowplowing and mowing can crush and destroy fencing, increasing the need for continual monitoring and maintenance. However, some mowing is needed around the fencing because some wildlife species (i.e., snakes) will use the vegetation to get over the fence and gain access to the road.
Can we link population size with mitigation projects? Are there data showing the effect of ecopassages on populations? Do the data support the use of these passages?
There are studies of road kill before and after the implementation of mitigation measures to see if they are effective and have shown that the numbers of road kill have decreased in areas where passages have been implemented. However, we need to radio-collar/GPS animals and follow them long term. The impact of mitigation measures on species richness may not be seen right away but over a time lag of about 30 - 40 years. An optimal study would be long term, have a control site and take a multi-species approach.
An example of a long-term study is one conducted on the North Carolina Highway 64 Extension black bear populations. Another important study has been done in Ontario on species richness of wetlands (authors: C. Scott Findlay, Jeff Houlahan, Josée Bourdages) and demonstrates that it takes 30+ years to show how roads affect species richness. Therefore, it is important not to declare ecopassages a failure after only a few years, since it may take decades to show their impacts. We must position ourselves somewhere in between patting ourselves on the back and studying things for decades. Success/support of the use of ecopassages should be defined based on populations rather than individuals. In order to try and maintain population continuity you don't need 100% movement; metapopulation dynamics only need occasional movements to declare success.
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