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Berkshire Volunteers Help Identify Roadkill Hotspots

Berkshire Environmental Action Team

A group of grassroots volunteers in Western Massachusetts is working to identify where animals are more likely to be struck by passing vehicles.

As the weather warms, wildlife becomes more active, and you might be more likely to spot more animals by the side of the road. But before an animal can detect an approaching car, it might be too late. So a group of volunteers recently organized to help pinpoint roadkill hotspots across Western Massachusetts and the Berkshires.

In an effort by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team called Connecting for Wildlife, community members paired their knowledge of their local communities with photos and data maps to identify areas where an animal is more likely to cross a road.

Berkshire resident Michele Lydon helped analyze maps in the campaign.

"I really never would have thought it be so easy to narrow it down to one area," said Lydon.

The maps Lydon and the volunteers are reviewing are computer models that incorporate data from the Conservation Assessment Prioritization System, developed by UMass Amherst. Taking into account details including development in an area, the surrounding geography, potential for pollution, and other factors, numbers are calculated to show the likelihood that an area would be more inhabitable by animals.

Elia Del Molino, program coordinator for the Connecting for Wildlife campaign  said  he is seeking local, community based knowledge to enhance the information provided by the models.

After the spots where an animal is more likely to be struck by passing vehicles are identified, Del Molino and other volunteers will go out into the field to survey specific study sites. Citizen scientists will measure existing culverts under roads, and take photos. A report will then be compiled to assist planners and others on where to improve road crossings for animals.

Elia Del Molino said that the reporting will also take public safety into account, in addition to seeking improved habitat connectivity for animals that live in water or land, where a road might divide that habitat.

"If you get all three of those into one proposal, you have a really good chance making a retrofit to a culvert," said Del Molino.

The Berkshire Environmental Action team is also partnering with the Linking Landscapes campaign – organized with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife at the Department of Fish and Game, and researchers at UMass Amherst. Linking Landscapes is about to kick off its 2013 Turtle Roadway Mortality Monitoring Program.

Dave Paulson is a researcher at Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. He said, "ultimately our goal is to minimize the impacts of existing roadways on wildlife, while improving highway safety through cost-effective research, planning, and implementation of partnerships within the community."

Paulson said that Linking Landscapes is focusing on turtle crossings because of their high vulnerability. Paulson said that an increase in turtle mortality of only 1 or 2 percent could drastically alter the populations of some species, some of which are endangered.

Paulson said that researchers hope to improve the future for the animals that commonly lay their eggs by the side of the road, but it wouldn’t be possible without the support of volunteers.

"It's all driven by citizen science," said Paulson.

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Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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