Roads and Wildlife Working Group
This group has been established in order to proactively identify potential conflicts between roads and wildlife as well as stretches of road where wildlife will benefit from crossing structures to allow safe passage.
In a state as densely populated as New Jersey, roads are a necessary part of everyone’s life. However, while roads allow humans to reach our jobs, friends, and favorite places, they often have a negative effect on New Jersey’s wildlife. For animals, roads are obstacles. Reptiles and amphibians are especially vulnerable to the effect of heavy traffic. Depending on the type of animal and amount of vehicular traffic present, roads can be risky to cross...or completely impenetrable. Roads disrupt natural migration corridors and fragment habitats. Individuals attempting to cross roads in order to migrate, find food, or return to their breeding grounds are not always successful, as we see by the evidence on the side of our roads. Blue-spotted salamanders, northern pine snakes, and eastern box turtles are just a few of New Jersey species whose populations have declined at least in part because of the effects of roads and traffic.
In most cases, attempts to reduce road-wildlife conflicts are made after the fact. The Amphibian Crossing Survey that the Conserve Wildlife Foundation leads each spring is one example. The project aims to reduce road mortality of salamanders and frogs forced to cross roads in order to reach their vernal breeding pools. Amphibian migrations can be very dense and are relatively predictable in both timing and location, year after year.
Efforts like this are usually the best we can do after a road has been built; however a new group has been established in order to proactively identify potential conflicts between roads and wildlife as well as stretches of road where wildlife will benefit from crossing structures to allow safe passage. The New Jersey Roads and Wildlife Working Group includes staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Land Use Regulation, and Department of Transportation as well as CWF. This group is working to find new solutions to mitigate the impacts of roads on wildlife in New Jersey. By working more closely with those responsible for planning and engineering roads, this group hopes to emphasize the needs of wildlife in the early planning stages of road projects rather than after the fact.
The first full meeting was held in July 2009 and served mainly as an opportunity for the different groups to become acquainted and brainstorm ideas. Reception was positive among all groups and early ideas included developing a statewide “connectivity map” of open space, identifying known areas of high mortality for vulnerable species. Mortality hotspots - like the amphibian crossings - will be targeted for installation of special tunnels or overpasses to reduce mortality and restore habitat connectivity.
This project will face a number of challenges. There are different ways existing roads can be adapted so that they are less of a threat to wildlife. Fences can be put up to keep small animals from reaching the road, tunnels or “critter crossings” can be installed, or existing culverts can be modified to allow safe passage below the roadway. Different situations call for different tactics, but one thing they have in common is that they can be costly to implement. Finding the funding necessary to implement these changes is a challenge we expect to face. These types of solutions are most cost-effective when considered during the planning stages of road construction or repair. It’s partly for this reason that we are focusing our efforts on new projects and sections of road already scheduled for maintenance. There are also examples from other states that show simple solutions can be effective without being expensive.
The greatest challenge is that much of the state is already criss-crossed with roads and they aren’t going to disappear. As human population densities increase and habitat for wildlife shrinks, roads will only become a bigger problem; but that’s also why this is such a timely project. The sooner we act, the bigger an impact we can have!
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