Critical Links programme by UMass to aid wildlife

Critical Links programme by UMass to aid wildlife

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US: To reconnect the intricate transportation routes of wildlife that are critical to their health and survival three University of Massachusetts (UMass) researchers have created a project called Critical Linkages.

Using digital maps, aerial photography and first hand observation, the programme aims to improve water, underground and above ground transportation routes for wildlife. Critical Linkages is a part of the Department of Environmental Conservation at UMass.

The project, directed under the authority of extension specialist Scott Jackson, Professor Kevin McGarigal and research fellow Brad Compton, all part of the Environmental Conservation Department, aims to collect research-based information for state and environmental agencies.  Agencies benefitting from the project include the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MDOT), the Nature Conservancy of Massachusetts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), and the Department of Fish and Game.

“It is a community-based approach,” said Jackson. Jackson explained  that the scientists simply do not look at one affected area, but look at regions of affected areas, and then evaluate and address what natural wildlife movement paths are most critical to preserve and restore.

“We take a course filtered approach – we answer what are the larger questions to address over long time periods,” said Jackson. One question Jackson said the programme evaluates is, “How is the landscape going to change over 200 years with climate change in mind?”

“We use computers to evaluate the best way to connect habitats and ecology,” said Jackson, when describing the Critical Linkages programme and its reliance on prior research known as the Conservation Assessment and Prioritization System (CAPS), a software programme written by Compton in 1998.

The UMass Landscape Ecology Laboratory website describes that, “CAPS computes an Index of Ecological Integrity (IEI) which depicts the relative wildlife habitat and biodiversity value of any point on the landscape based on landscape ecology principles and expert opinion.”

The three scientists are not the only ones working on the project. There is participation on the statewide level between graduate students and undergraduate students at several UMass campuses.

Critical linkages addresses various ways in which the climate could change and how the wildlife and habitat balance could change. The programme addresses and presents options for dealing with the unknown future of weather, climate and wildlife species.

The project has been funded by the Federal Highway Administration (USD 150,000 ) and the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy (USD 120,000).

There are two phases to the project. The first phase is focused on the end of the year in December. It will produce identification of culverts to connect aquatic ecosystems, evaluations of road segments statewide and dams. The second phase is to continue addressing ecological integrity on a local level and a broader level.

There are five systems to focus on in Massachusetts; forested, non-forested, upland wetlands, aquatic and coastal landscapes, said Jackson.
 
Source: Daily Collegian