A Model to Make Wildlife Connectivity Work with Land-Use Planning

Category Science

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers developed a model framework to identify ways to ensure wildlife can safely navigate their habitats while not unduly affecting infrastructure. The project located in Tennessee focused on species like the four-toed salamander. Scientists used conservation buffers and open-bottom culverts to provide safe passage. The model benefited from a wealth of data gathered over the course of 30 years.

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Researchers of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a model framework to identify ways to ensure wildlife can safely navigate their habitats while still accommodating infrastructure needs. The project began over 2 years ago, June 2021, and its main focus was 32,000-acre Oak Ridge Reservation located in Tennessee. The reservation currently consists of Department of Energy facilities and species such as the four-toed salamander which are at-risk of endangerment.

The project has been ongoing for over 2 years since June 2021.

Scientists used the model framework to discover habitats and simulate several solutions that would allow safe passage for salamanders and other wildlife including conservation buffers and open-bottom culverts. These solutions were found to be more cost-effective than large-scale barrier removal and still have the effect of providing ecological connectivity. Evin Carter of ORNL commented on the project saying, “Development and environmental sustainability don’t have to be at odds. Our collaborative approach with project managers and engineers shows wildlife management can be an integral part of land-use planning without introducing undue cost or delays.” .

There are nearly 100 species on the Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee.

Examining the data available, thanks to its unique status as a National Environmental Research Park, doctoral student Bryce Wade from ORNL noted that the model was able to benefit from 30 years of high-resolution data. This allowed scientists to gather more in-depth knowledge to better inform the model-generated solutions.

The project is titled "Advancing Wildlife Connectivity in Land-Use Planning: A Case Study with Four-Toed Salamanders" and can be found in the Journal of Wildlife Management published on the 20th of June 2023. The piece was written by Bryce S. Wade, Evin T. Carter, Christopher R. Derolph, Greg Byrd, Sarah E. Darling, Lindsey E. Hayter, R. Trent Jett, Jamie M. Herold and Neil R. Giffen, and can be accessed with the DOI 10.1002/jwmg.22456.

Human activity fragments habitats which necessitates measures to ensure wildlife connectivity.

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