Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) road mortality is a significant threat relative to recovery of this species. Construction of over 60,000 kilometers of major roads throughout the range of the desert tortoise has permanently fragmented previously contiguous habitat, reducing connectivity among populations. Installation of tortoise fencing and culverts to limit mortality, encourage re-colonization of habitat, and ensure connectivity has been identified as a high priority for desert tortoise recovery, yet many miles of roads throughout desert tortoise habitat remain unfenced. Numerous technical, financial, and administrative obstacles to fencing installation present significant barriers to implementation of this high priority recovery action. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), the Western Transportation Institute (WTI), and local, state and Federal agencies to develop and organize a series of five focused-topic virtual Desert Tortoise Transportation Ecology Webinars, with a Capstone Workshop held during March 2021. The CLLC developed and analyzed a survey intended to identify key issues and inform development of the final agenda for the Capstone Workshop. In lieu of an in-person field trip, a documentary featuring a rangewide tour of study sites, interviews, and presentation of relevant issues was filmed and presented during the Capstone Workshop. The primary objective of the Capstone Workshop was the establishment of a Task Force to address issues regarding effects of roads to desert tortoise populations, and implementation of conservation actions intended to minimize these effects. The Task Force collaborates in an interdisciplinary fashion, under the guidance of the Service, CLLC, and WTI, and ARC Solutions (ARCS) to develop technical solutions and best management practices, which will be published as a guide for transportation and natural resources/wildlife agencies. The CLLC, WTI, and the ARCS assists the Task Force with navigation of policy issues and priorities identified through the Capstone Workshop. This approach is an excellent example of interagency partnership with non-governmental organizations to better inform and increase implementation of actions to benefit recovery of the desert tortoise and other chelonid species at risk from road effects.
Mainstreaming ecology in transportation planning and program delivery