The Vermont Agency of Transportation is undertaking a corridor-wide upgrade of 5 culvert and bridge projects along a 10 mile stretch of state highway passing through sensitive wood turtle habitat and an important wildlife travel corridor. VTrans and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department identified the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) as a species of concern along this corridor during Resource ID. Wood turtles, VT’s only “terrestrial” turtle, are remarkable animals that face population level threats from vehicle collisions, mechanized agriculture, and poaching through an international black market. While roads impact most wildlife, wood turtles are especially sensitive to roadkill, which can be a driving force behind localized population decline. The highway in question bisects a massive habitat block where most of the existing bridges/culverts are barriers to wildlife movement (undersized perched culverts and a bridge built over a natural fall). Instead of following streams under the highway, wildlife is forced to turn around or cross the highway at these structures, especially when moving upstream – posing a risk to both wildlife and drivers. Moreover, this habitat block lies at the epicenter of the global range of wood turtle and may be especially important for the species in the face of predicted changes to climate.
Prior to development of conceptual plans VTrans, Vermont F&WD, Orianne Society, and VTrans’ consulting engineers met to discuss options for providing connectivity through these projects. While none of the species using this habitat block are federally or state protected, the partners identified this as a group of projects important enough to design for connectivity along this corridor as a proactive stewardship opportunity - without regulatory leverage driving that design decision.
Specifically, the new structures will include wildlife shelves/passage for a large range of species with some very specific and innovative design accommodations for wood turtles. VTrans is partnering with Orianne Society to conduct pre-construction monitoring of wood turtle movement within a few thousand feet of bridge projects utilizing GPS trackers as well as passive and active camera traps. This monitoring will assess how the highway impacts wood turtle movements and determine whether and where current road crossing hotspots are. Orianne will also conduct post construction monitoring for at least one year to collect baseline data on how the upgraded structures affect wood turtle movement.
This presentation will be a case study in proactive connectivity work for a suite of species from wood turtle to moose and will highlight ecology and movement patterns of the wood turtle. The presentation will address the importance of proactively reconnecting habitat at the heart of a species’ range with design decisions that transcends geographic and political boundaries.