Breaking Travel Barriers for Maine Predators Also Protects Humans
AUGUSTA, Maine - The same highways that keep Mainers connected can also block natural connections for wildlife, a problem local conservationists are trying to solve. According to Dan Corker, a field mapper for the Nature Conservancy, there's a project in the early stages in New England, studying animal traffic patterns for large predators like bobcats and bears to figure out where human intrusions cut off natural connections.
"We've hired a winter tracker to go out in parts of western Maine to sort of see if there are sections of roads that are being really heavily used by animals, what kind of animals are crossing, and how many, and all that," he said.
Corker said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is helping to fund research for the project, called the "Staying Connected Initiative." He said the effort, which involves two countries and more than 80 million acres, will help safeguard wildlife in the Northern Forest.
Some of the most extensive tracking is underway in the Adirondacks. According to the Nature Conservancy's Alissa Rafferty, they will use the findings to work with the State Transportation Departments to propose cost-effective changes that can be made during routine maintenance.
"How to facilitate passage for wildlife and also make it safer for people" are the objectives, she said. "So, options like increasing culvert size, creating strategic fence breaks, and putting up signs for motorists are just some examples."
Rafferty said the animal traffic is tracked using motion-detecting cameras and a very old-fashioned and economical method: paw prints in the snow.
"It's amazing how snow cover can really act as a blank canvas, and potentially anything that moves across it, is recorded for us to see," she remarked.
Rafferty said the species they are studying move over great distances for at least part of the year for a variety of reasons, following food sources, finding mates, and, potentially, in response to the environmental effect of climate change.
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