KEENE VALLEY - The Nature Conservancy is spearheading an initiative to determine how transportation infrastructure, land-use planning, and habitat protection can facilitate species migration in the Lake Champlain basin.
"The goal is to provide safe passage for species a way for a moose, say, to go from the Adirondacks to Vermont with little risk of being struck by a car, or a salmon to make it far enough upstream to spawn without being blocked by a dry culvert," said Michael Carr, executive director of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Carr said roads, culverts, and dams can contribute to habitat fragmentation, which can become perilous to wildlife by cutting off opportunities for populations to mix and breed and move between breeding, nesting and feeding grounds. Certain improvements to transportation infrastructure can alleviate the problem, however.
"To date, we've raised several hundred thousand dollars in grants for this initiative in the Champlain Valley, which is a critical piece of a larger effort," said Carr.
It is one of six projects to benefit from a $1 million grant awarded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program toward a multi-state effort across the Northern Forest, an area that covers 80 million acres across New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and parts of Canada.
Transportation agencies from across the four-state region are participating in the project to help identify and incorporate improvements that allow for species migration as part of road maintenance/upgrade work planned for 2009-2014 along priority habitat linkage corridors.
Preliminary studies point to the southern headwaters region of Lake Champlain as one such key linkage between the Adirondacks and Green Mountains. High-probability movement corridors for black bear, American marten, and bobcat have already been identified there through the use of a sophisticated computer modeling program, Carr said. Barriers have also been identified the same way.
"With the Conservancy's mapping and modeling work, this project will help us understand how and where we can make improvements that will benefit wildlife as part of our routine highway maintenance activities," said Gary McVoy, Director of Operations Division with NY State Department of Transportation.
Elsewhere in the Lake Champlain basin, the Conservancy and transportation partners are identifying barriers within aquatic ecosystems with funding from a second SWG grant and an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Some of the work will entail looking at constrictions caused by culverts along Lake Champlain tributaries like the Boquet, Saranac, and Upper Winooski Rivers, as well as smaller streams that provide habitat for salmon and species of conservation concern. Once identified, the partners will determine how best to alleviate blockages and promote fish passage.
Carr said the Nature Conservancy will seek to link key habitats, giving native species the room to migrate.
"People in the Valley will benefit, too, as ecosystems sustain important species tied to economic livelihoods and outdoor pursuits." he said.