National legislation is directing states to implement wildlife corridor plans to identify wildlife corridors, where they intersect roadways, and consider wildlife vehicle collisions (WVC) countermeasures such as fencing, changeable message signs, or wildlife over-and under-passes. Virginia is no different. In the fall of 2021, Virginia Senate Bill 1004 mandated that a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan (WCAP) be developed and renewed every 4 years. The bill states that the WCAP must be a combined effort from The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and state resource agencies to improve road safety for citizens through reductions in WVC while also connecting wildlife habitats. VDOT, the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR), and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), developed the WCAP with goals to promote wildlife corridor protection across Virginia, improve driver safety, and protect biodiversity. VDOT contracted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to research the occurrence rate of WVC along Virginia roadways. Whitetail deer and black bear collisions were the main focus though other animals were also identified. Datasets were compiled from state police and roadkill data to create GIS layers showing occurrence rates. DWR and DCR contributed by identifying barriers to wildlife movement and biodiversity/wildlife corridors. When all components of the plan were combined, areas of intersect between wildlife biodiversity resilience corridors and the highest rates of WVC were noticeable statewide, but a study at the regional level is needed to better understand WVC hotspots and wildlife movement. The final plan recommends WVC countermeasures for environmental planners to consider. The WCAP was finished in time for use as entities submit projects through FHWA’s National Culvert Removal, Replacement, and Restoration Grant Program targeting improving connectivity for aquatic and terrestrial species at road stream crossings.
• Legislation-Senate Bill 1004 created Article 8 (§ 29.1-578 et seq.) of Chapter 5 of Title 29.1 of the Code of Virginia (Ch. 672). The new Article, “Wildlife Corridors,” requires the DWR, in collaboration with the VDOT and the DCR to create a “Wildlife Corridor Action Plan”.
• Challenges-When considering roadway wildlife countermeasures, VDOT planners lack data regarding costs to implement countermeasures and their effectiveness to reduce WVC.
VDOT planning considerations:
• Driver Safety-Are there large animal corridors intersecting with roads that pose a threat to driver safety? If so, VDOT should consider countermeasures in the planning process.
• What is already there? Is there an existing structure like a bridge, culvert, or underpass within a wildlife movement corridor? If so, these areas should be a wildlife countermeasure priority.
• Low Hanging Fruit-Projects that can implement simple solutions such as debris cleaning from bridges, grading rough terrain, and maintaining lighting can improve passage for animals.
• Multi-species benefits-Aquatic Organism Passage (AOP) barrier remediation methods combined with wildlife countermeasures will aid in funding and provide multiple species benefits. Solutions that solve AOP stream barriers are viable solutions for wildlife crossing countermeasures.