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Natural Heritage Elements - Landscape level


Connecting Habitat (Corridors)

Definition

               Connecting habitat is land that links larger patches of habitat within a landscape, allowing the movement, migration, and dispersal of animals and plants. Riparian habitat along streams and rivers, strips of forest cover between developed areas, and even hedgerows/ fencerows all represent potential connecting habitat. Sometimes these areas are called 'corridors' even though they are not always linear, as the term implies.   

Landscapes with (A) high and (B) low degrees of connectivity. Corridors are particularly imptant for orwide-ranging species whose habitat needs are not accommodated by a single patch of suitable habitat. (Source: Federal Interagency Stream Restoration Working Group (FISRWG))

Importance  

                 Movement of animals from one habitat patch to another is the most common function associated with connecting habitat. This function is particularly important for wide-ranging animals, such as bobcats and black bears, or for animals that require a great deal of space to meet their daily life needs, such as barred 

Wildlife Suitability Analysis 

Uses human population density, land cover, and core forests to predict the places most likely to be good habitat. It does not show the actual quality of the habitat.

 

Wildlife Crossing Value

Flags sections of road where areas that are likely to be  good habitat get occur on both sides of the road. This predictive model has been checked against some two decades worth of road kill data and the correlation is dramatic. Note the analysis was only done on state roads.

 

This data can be accessed on VCGI as well as when you Contact Us

       owls or otter. Although connecting habitat is often associated with wide-ranging mammals, it is equally important for animals with relatively small ranges. Spotted salamanders, for example, use connecting habitat in spring to move from their hibernation sites to breeding pools. 

                The value of connecting habitat is a function of both seasonal and spatial patterns of wildlife behavior. For example, connecting habitat may allow black bears to access important food resources during a specific time of year (seasonal), or it may prevent isolation of bear populations by allowing free exchange of breeding adults (spatial). Ultimately, connecting habitat can ensure that the habitat, movement, migration, and behavior requirements of most native plants and animals are conserved across a broad landscape. 

                The broader ecological value of connecting habitat is to join fragmented pieces of habitat, thereby reducing the deleterious effects of habitat fragmentation and population isolation. Linking small or otherwise isolated habitat patches may reduce the risk of local population extinctions by ensuring immigration, recolonization, reproduction, and exchange of genes for some plant and animal species. 

                While conserving corridors has great merit, do not assume that conserving threads of vegetative cover within a developing landscape will maintain an area's ecological values and biological diversity. Nor will corridors alone meet the habitat needs of all of an area's plant and animal species. Only in conjunction with the conservation of large areas of undeveloped land with diverse habitat conditions, and the maintenance of a sustainable working landscape, will vegetative corridors assist in supporting ecosystem functions and related public benefits.  

                In summary, connecting (corridor) habitat is important because it does the following:

  • Allows animals to move freely across their range;

  • Allows plants and animals to colonize new habitat as climate change, succession, or other ecological processes force them to migrate;

  • Reduces the risk of population isolation and provides for the exchange of genetic information among  populations of animals and plants;

  • Allows animals to access suitable habitat to meet their daily and annual life needs;

  • Allows seasonal movements (migrations) to essential range or habitat;

  • Allows young adult animals to access new range, away from natal range; and

  • Allows adult animals to interact with potential mates, thus improving reproductive success and genetic fitness.   

 

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Conservation Goals

                 A town or other planning group might adopt goals like the ones below for the conservation of connecting habitat: 

1.        Ensure that animals and plants are able to move freely between conserved lands, undeveloped private lands, contiguous forest habitat, and other important habitats, land features, and natural communities in order to meet all their necessary survival requirements. This may be accomplished by an increase in the number of acres of connecting lands/corridors under land stewardship and/or that are permanently protected or conserved. 

2.        Ensure that animals and plants can move long distances - beyond the boundaries of the town or area of interest - as they need to for breeding, dispersal, and adaptation to climate or habitat change, for example.  

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                     Road Ecology

 

To learn about some of the work we're doing with the Vermont Agency of Transportation in the emerging field of Road Ecology visit the  VTRANS Environmantal Section

Obtaining and Interpreting Information

Information Sources

See Resources for information on how to contact or visit the websites of the agencies and organizations mentioned below.

         Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department The Department maintains information on road-related wildlife mortality throughout Vermont . This information indicates where wildlife commonly cross roads.

         Hunters and Trappers: These residents often have excellent information about where animals move, how they get from one habitat patch to another, and where they try to cross roads.

         United States Geological Survey Topographic maps from the USGS are a basic tool for identifying potential connecting habitat. These are available in paper format from USGS, the Vermont Geological Survey, and bookstores.

         Regional Planning Commission: These groups can provide orthophotos for use in locating potential connecting habitat.

         Vermont Mapping Program The program is administered by the Vermont Department of Taxes and supplies each town (by law) with two sets of 1:5,000 orthophoto printouts for its geographic area. They can also supply digital format orthophotos (on CD-ROM) and will do custom print-outs of orthophotos (and some other spatial data layers) at other scales for a fee.

        Vermont Center for Geographic Information Digital data layers, including topography, roads, and surface waters, are available from the Center for use with GIS software.  

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Corridors Connecting Patches of habitat

This map shows areas where animals might be predicted to move from one patch of habitat to another. The predictions are based on available forested habitat adjacent to roads, presence of drainage areas or streams, changes in topography, and areas of developed land.

Interpreting the Information  

                Like contiguous forest, the location of connecting habitat is determined by the configuration of developed lands and topography. It is also determined by the distribution of bodies of water and associated riparian areas, of existing conserved lands that could be connected in a sensible way, and the distribution of private tracts, especially those that are larger or those that provide critical corridors in which the landowner is interested in long-term stewardship . 

        The following criteria are useful in evaluating and understanding information on connecting habitat: 

1.        Determine whether existing conserved lands or other areas of important habitat have potential connections (for example, ridgelines, drainage basins, riparian habitat). 

2.        Rivers and streams should have wide naturally vegetated riparian habitat (for example, greater than 100 feet wide on at least one side of a river or stream that appears to connect habitats upstream and downstream of the corridor). 

3.        Identify areas of habitat between areas of development along roads where animals are known to cross repeatedly. These areas are termed bottlenecks and are often very important connecting habitat, allowing animals to move within a developing landscape and access important habitat on both sides of a road. Consider a broad array of habitats that may compose a corridor. It is a misconception that corridors are long, narrow strips of mature forest. In fact, a corridor may be wide, irregular in shape, and composed of young forest, shrub, and early successional habitats. 

4.        Determine which landowners are interested in the long-term stewardship of connecting habitat. 

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Conservation Strategies

Once information has been gathered on connecting lands, you can develop conservation strategies to help achieve your goals. Examples of strategies for each goal are presented below. 

 

1. Goal: Ensure that animals and plants are able to move freely between conserved lands and lands under long-term stewardship, contiguous forest habitat, and other important habitats, land features and natural communities to meet all their requirements for survival by increasing the acreage of connecting lands.  

Strategies: 

        a. Adopt language in a town plan or other related document(s) that support the protection of important wildlife corridors and connecting lands. Sample Language: Important wildlife corridors will be protected or conserved from encroaching development and incompatible activities, such as road expansion or development of new roads, by restricting development in and around corridors. These resources will be given high priority in considering lands for acquisition or other long-term conservation efforts.  

        b. Use conservation easements, fee acquisition, and/ or zoning (such as overlay districts) to establish a network of connecting habitat within a town that connects all conserved lands, lands under long-term stewardship, or other habitats identified as important for this goal. 

        c. Develop a system for the transfer of development rights (TDR) that targets the conservation of lands supporting important wildlife corridor functions or that are otherwise significant for connecting conserved lands and lands under long-term stewardship, habitats, or the landscape in general. (See Tools for details.) Implementation of a TDR program should consider other elements for conservation of public interests and general welfare; it should be used to support the conservation of the public's interests in all the natural heritage elements presented herein. 

        d. Gather information pertaining to locations along town and state roads where wildlife is known to frequently cross. These areas may serve as important wildlife corridors and can serve as the basis for a broader corridor inventory. Incorporate a map of this information into the town plan, or other open space plan, and prioritize these areas for conservation.  

        e. Adopt town road management standards designed to conserve wildlife corridor functions by avoiding the installation of guardrails (where possible), avoiding the removal of roadside vegetation, or avoiding roadside ditching in existing corridor areas. 

        f. Allow for PUDs in town zoning and/or subdivision regulations as an alternative to conventional subdivisions, and require or provide incentives (e.g., density bonuses) for PUD designs that cluster development away from important corridors. 

        Retain natural landscapes along roads where animals, such as black bear, moose, and bobcat, are known to cross repeatedly over time. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has a database with this information that should be consulted when considering connecting lands in the context of local and regional planning. Consider providing underpasses or other aids to wildlife movement across major roads where road-related wildlife mortality is frequent. 

        g. Establish a land acquisition fund and an accompanying plan that identifies, among other things, connecting lands/corridors as important natural heritage elements that should be considered for funding. (See Tools for details.) Work with neighboring towns, wildlife biologists from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and other experts, such as the Keeping Track, Inc. organization, to identify important regional travel corridors and connecting lands. Seek to protect these through long-term stewardship, conservation easements, and fee acquisition of important lands. Try to maintain the specific features of the corridor that make it effective. 

        h. Incorporate development setbacks from mapped corridors into town zoning regulations. This can be accomplished by creating a zoning district or an overlay district that includes mapped corridors. 

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2. Goal: Ensure that wildlife can move long distances - beyond the boundaries of the town or area of interest - as they need to for breeding, dispersal, and adaptation to climate or habitat change.  

Strategies: 

        a. Learn about statewide and regional conservation plans that address large-scale wildlife movement and seek to assist in addressing the goals of those plans as they apply locally. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department offers information pertaining to these plans and related efforts. Many of the strategies identified for goal 1 will also serve to achieve this goal. 

        b. Consider the conservation of connecting lands and wildlife corridors beyond town boundaries. Invite the participation of other towns within a watershed or biophysical region, for example, to consider conserving those lands that cross town boundaries and that are important for the movement of wide-ranging wildlife and connecting important habitats. These efforts could be memorialized and implemented through watershed plans or agreements between town planning and conservation commissions to provide stewardship for or conserve lands that represent important corridors in similar fashion. Consider working with local and regional land trusts and similar local conservation organizations experienced in managing land acquisition and conservation easements.   

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