Climate change isn’t just coming, it’s here. One of the most visible effects is on the size and frequency of large annual storms: in the Northeastern U.S. annual large storm events have increased in size by 26% and occur 85% more often compared to 1948. Even in the face of this fact, many road systems in this area are still being built and maintained just like they were in the 1950s—but that’s begun to change.
Whether to improve fish passage, or to protect public safety and infrastructure investments, many communities have begun to seek out and design road-stream crossings that work with nature, not against it. In Maine, that effort has a name: Stream Smart. Based on the U.S. Forest Service Stream Simulation Design approach to crossings, Stream Smart is at once a set of design principles, a type of infrastructure feature, and an outreach program. Launched by Maine Audubon in 2011, Stream Smart is the ultimate in partnership programs with state and federal natural resource agencies, non-profit organizations, and private industry working together to educate practitioners and install crossings that “let the stream act like a stream.” The principles of Stream Smart have found their way into road-stream crossing designs, regulatory doctrine, and priorities for infrastructure funding. The results of upgraded crossings are immediate and striking: Atlantic Salmon and Eastern Brook Trout able to access cold water refugia and roadways safe from washouts that come with larger storms. With streambanks built within these crossings, terrestrial wildlife can move safely through Stream Smart crossings instead of over the road as populations move to adjust to a changing climate.
And now Stream Smart is expanding beyond Maine. Beginning in 2021 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has begun a program to bring Stream Smart assessment and design, and associated training methods, to their entire North Atlantic-Appalachian Region from Maine to West Virginia. By making the training program simple and accessible to a wide audience we can not only reach everyone from engineers to foresters to local departments of public works, but the training itself can be shared through “Train the Trainer” sessions to expand the program further. So few road professionals have had the opportunity, and time, to be able to spend an entire week at a Stream Simulation Design training—held 2-3 times per year in various locations around the country—but many can attend a half-day introduction or a 2-day field training. By instilling the principles of Stream Smart and then supporting trainees on their own projects, the partners that make up the Stream Smart family can help reconnect aquatic and terrestrial habitats while protecting roads and public safety. Together we can face the effects of climate change head on, and give wildlife and communities a fighting chance.