Wildlife may benefit as highway culverts are redesigned

Ecologists hope to learn lessons from major storms

By Mary Esch |  ASSOCIATED PRESS | APRIL 12, 2013

AU SABLE FORKS, N.Y. — The humble highway culvert, cheaper than a bridge and unseen by drivers tooling through stream-laced mountains, has become a focal point in efforts to help communities and wildlife adapt to climate change.

The critical role of these structures — essentially big pipes or concrete boxes carrying streams beneath roads — was demonstrated dramatically in a series of extreme weather events in the Northeast in recent years. In 2011, severe spring flooding followed by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer washed out roads on the mountains of New York and New England as culverts not designed for such huge volumes of water were overwhelmed.

The planned rebuilding of aging or storm-damaged culverts is giving ecologists a rare opportunity to help wildlife expand their range into cooler regions to adapt to climate change by eliminating barriers imposed by highways and poorly designed culverts.

‘‘We’ve been exploring using culverts as a way to alleviate flooding and protect human safety, as well as helping fish and wildlife,’’ said Connie Prickett of the Adirondack chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

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