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Tools for Integrating Ecosystem Connectivity Into Planning

Shannon Crossen
Wildlife Biologist

Date

Thursday, October 15, 2020 - 4:30pm

Habitat connectivity is essential to maintaining and conserving fish and wildlife species populations and important ecological processes. Species must be able to move to access habitat to feed, breed, seek shelter, migrate, and recover from perturbations. For many species, connectivity is substantially obstructed and fragmented by infrastructure which can result in species population declines and imperilment. Methods to remediate fish and wildlife movement barriers along roadways and other infrastructure have been implemented globally for decades. Wildlife barrier remediation typically involves constructing a combination of wildlife crossings (in the form of culverts, bridges, or stand-alone wildlife crossings), combined with wildlife fencing. Fish passage barrier remediation typically involves engineering culverts or bridges with appropriate size, slope, velocity, and substrate to accommodate fish passage. These measures ensure fish and wildlife can access historical habitats and allow safe movement across roadways and other infrastructure. For both fish and wildlife this remediation results in improved access to feeding, breeding, and shelter and constitute important conservation actions which facilitate continued species existence and conservation. Despite our understanding of the importance of species movement and habitat connectivity and our global progress in incorporating fish and wildlife connectivity considerations into standard practices, there is room for improvement to ensure that fish and wildlife connectivity are adequately considered and that wildlife movement is integrated into fish passage barrier remediation projects. Interestingly, fish and wildlife barrier remediation efforts have largely been conducted within separate subdisciplines and largely uncoordinated with one another. For instance, many fish passage barriers also experience adjacent wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and are in locations which warrant improved wildlife crossing design considerations. Additionally, infrastructure development projects may also miss opportunities to remediate WVCs and fragmentation if proper assessments and data review have not been conducted. These opportunities are demonstrated with our proof of concept Ecosystem Connectivity Planning Tool which identifies locations which warrant consideration of wildlife passage assessment and design considerations. The tool identifies locations where fish and wildlife movement are impeded and where wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs) and public safety are also a concern. The tool allows for deep exploration and visualization of WVC and connectivity data including multi-scale hot spot and cluster analytics, ecological data, infrastructure planning data, and more.  Priority locations can be easily located within the tool’s viewer facilitating locating and prioritizing locations for wildlife connectivity enhancements. The tool is highly customizable to allow the objectives and priorities of each user to be integrated and adapted. Such tools provide a simple to use and cost-effective way to identify and prioritize connectivity enhancement opportunities early in the planning process to facilitate connectivity for a larger suite of species, improve road safety, and prevent further lost opportunities in enhancing and restoring habitat connectivity.

Photo of Shannon Crossen

Shannon Crossen is a senior conservation biologist at ICF with 10 years of experience working on natural resource research, planning, and assessments in both the public and private sectors. She has a strong background in natural resource planning and project management on large projects with interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder participation in coastal and inland settings. Her experience includes biological resource impact assessments and technical studies, ecosystem restoration planning, implementation, and monitoring, Environmental Document preparation; regulatory permitting, listed species consultations and conservation plans, and policy development. She is experienced in development and application of conceptual and quantitative species and ecosystem modeling and conducting systematic literature reviews to support large research efforts to inform alternatives analyses and support development of unique solutions to complex problems. Shannon is formally trained in conflict resolution and multi-disciplinary collaborations and communication and is experienced with groups including fellow scientists, government agencies, stakeholders, and the public.

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