Moving wildlife, storing carbon: The Greens-to-Hudson Highlands wildlife linkage project in western Massachusetts
The Staying Connected Initiative is a partnership of state agencies, conservation groups, and communities working to restore and enhance landscape connections (linkages) for the benefit of people and wildlife across the Northern Appalachians. Much of western Massachusetts is within a linkage that connects the Green Mountains in Vermont to New York’s Hudson Highlands. In this linkage, The Nature Conservancy, MassDOT, and UMass-Amherst have partnered on the Critical Linkages project to identify places where land protection and transportation improvements will provide the biggest benefit to habitat connectivity. In these high-leverage locations, TNC and partners are working to maintain and restore the ability of wildlife to move in response to climate change. Many of the same actions that improve habitat connectivity will also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change. Conservation of a continuous, natural cover path that winds through large forest cores throughout the linkage will both allow for wildlife movement and ensure the continued storage of carbon within this path. Similarly, transportation infrastructure projects that allow both water and wildlife to move under roads will reduce damage to roads from storms and lessen the economic and carbon costs of repeated re-construction of culverts and road surfaces.
Critical Linkages models the impact (link importance score) of breaking the connection between each pair of habitat nodes (nodes = interior forest habitat including wetlands and streams, >500 acres; 136 nodes fall within the Greens-to-Hudson linkage). Twenty-nine areas with link importance scores >1.5 sd from the mean are priorities for land protection and/or landowner outreach, with 14 additional priority areas necessary to create a continuous path through western Massachusetts. A similar analysis was done for road segments, where Critical Linkages models the increase in habitat connectivity (linkage importance score) that would occur if a road segment were made permeable to wildlife. Twenty priority road segments represent the highest-leverage opportunities for improving road infrastructure to allow wildlife passage over or under the road. Together, this analysis of the Greens-to-Hudson linkage maps a continuous natural cover path, including core habitats and connections between them, where land protection and transportation improvements would be most beneficial. Maintaining this path for wildlife movement as well as for production of drinking water and carbon storage will ensure that this linkage continues to function for people and wildlife well into the future.