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Document Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Wildlife & Fisheries Conservation

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

January 2008

Month Degree Awarded

September

Keywords

Monitoring, Multi-taxa, Road, Wildlife Crossing

Abstract

Roads are prominent, contiguous features covering approximately 1% of the United States land mass and have been built for decades with little consideration for ecological effects. Increasingly, the impacts of roads are being recognized and the science of road ecology is emerging as an important area of study for conservation biologists. For wildlife, the impacts of roads are disproportionate to the area of land they occupy.

Direct impacts on wildlife include mortality via vehicle collision and restriction or alteration of movement. Road kill exceeds hunting as the leading direct human cause of vertebrate mortality, with approximately one million vertebrates a day killed on roads in the United States. Roadways also affect wildlife through habitat loss and fragmentation, isolation of wildlife populations, disruption of gene flow and metapopulation dynamics.

A variety of strategies have been used with mixed success to mitigate the impacts of roads on wildlife. Commonly, underpasses are used to facilitate movement of wildlife across roadways in Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.. However, the effectiveness of these underpasses to facilitate wildlife movement depends on a number of variables, including: size, proximity to natural wildlife corridors, noise levels, substrate, vegetative cover, moisture, temperature, light, and human disturbance. Further, different species typically have different requirements. Thus if crossing structures are designed for use by a singles species, they may constitute an absolute barrier for other species that have different requirements.

Most attempts to evaluate wildlife crossing structures focus exclusively on documenting wildlife use of structures. While tracking beds, cameras, and counters document the species using structures, they provide little information on those species or individuals that fail to use a structure. In contrast, telemetry, trapping and tracking studies are more useful for determining the extent to which roadways inhibit wildlife movements and the degree to which crossing structures mitigate these effects. Thus, to fully assess the effectiveness of wildlife passageways, a combination of monitoring techniques across a variety of taxa is needed to evaluate structure use impacts of transportation systems on animal movements.

The goal of this study was to assess the effectiveness of wildlife crossing structures constructed as part of the Bennington Bypass (Highway 279) in southern Vermont. The bypass was completed in October 2004 and includes three wildlife crossing structures, including two extended bridges and a large culvert. This study monitored the effectiveness of these crossing structures and compared rates of wildlife movement across the highway in mitigated and unmitigated sections.

First Advisor

Curtice R. Griffin

Second Advisor

Paige S. Warren

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