Identifying Road Segments that Bisect Predicted Movement Corridors for Small Priority Species in Virginia

The legislatively mandated Virginia Wildlife Corridor Action Plan (WCAP), created by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, in collaboration with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Virginia Department of Forestry, identifies wildlife corridors and areas with a high risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions and recommends wildlife crossing projects intended to promote driver safety and wildlife connectivity. The WCAP lists several “recommendations for future actions” for its next iteration. Four future actions include: (1) identify at-risk terrestrial [and aquatic species] and other species of interest and with corridor needs not sufficiently addressed by the Wildlife Biodiversity Resilience Corridors (WBRCs); (2) identify important habitat corridors for these species; (3) identify Wildlife Crossing Concern Areas (e.g., high-risk road segments) for these at-risk species; and (4) for the WBRCs, identify and analyze non-road human barriers (e.g., land uses) impacting corridor connectivity. This study supports these future actions. The study purpose is to advance the work of the legislated WCAP and meet the intent of an awarded Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) grant by identifying road segments that may pose a high risk or impede movement of select small terrestrial and semiaquatic animal species, from a conservation perspective. To identify high risk road segments, distribution models will be created to obtain estimates of habitat suitability and important movement areas for a list of priority species. These habitat suitability and predicted movement maps will be created in Google Earth Engine using a subset of known occurrence locations and relevant predictor variables for each species. Virginia will benefit from this study’s application of a robust spatial analysis workflow to identify areas of suitable habitat, potential movement corridors and high-risk road segments for species with limited road mortality data and/or specialized habitat requirements.