One structure, two purposes: How well-planned infrastructure can address both biodiversity protection and climate change adaptation goals

Road ecology, the study of the interactions between the environment and roads, offers important land-use planning tools which can help adapt to the effects of climate change.

Climate change is a global issue, which often makes it feel like actions taken locally or individually are insignificant. In reality, we are experiencing the effects on a global and local scale. Even local or small-scale mitigation techniques and technologies can have a cumulative impact.

The climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis are connected. Biodiversity loss – for example, loss of forested land or wetlands – results in emissions of greenhouse gases. Healthy ecosystems, such as wetlands, can help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by capturing and holding onto carbon. Not only that, but wetlands, such as those found around Norfolk County, can also help buffer the effects of weather events. They can store flood water, recharge creeks during a drought, stop storm surges, and provide fire breaks. But healthy ecosystems require species diversity to properly function.

The Road Ecology Working Group is collaborating to protect biodiversity in the Priority Place by mitigating road mortality, which results in installing road infrastructure such as fencing and culverts to both prevent wildlife from being on the roads and to enable them to move through their habitat at safe locations.

A turtle using a culvert, allowing it to move through its habitat without the danger of being on a road. Photo: Rick Levick.

While these infrastructure options help mitigate the threats of roads to Species at Risk, they also have the opportunity to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The same culverts which allow species to move under the roads can also help accommodate increased water flows from extreme weather events. These extreme weather events are occurring at an increasing frequency due to climate change.

“Biodiversity-led infrastructure serves multiple objectives and achieves safe, efficient transportation for residents and visitors across the County,” says Mandy Karch, Chair of the Road Ecology Working group in the LPWF. “As municipalities assess infrastructure and plan for climate change adaptation strategies, considering road ecology principles and practices are integral to completing an economically and ecologically responsible process.”

With this in mind, the Road Ecology Working Group is looking for ways to include wildlife and Species at Risk planning that align with projects or upgrades for Norfolk County road plans. They compare where road upgrades are already needed in Norfolk County with wildlife crossing hotspots in order to recommend road mortality mitigation infrastructure to be included in these upgrades.

This method of allocating funds to install and maintain infrastructure will help preserve biodiversity and mitigate local climate change impacts, and as Mandy Karch says, is data-informed and both economically and ecologically responsible.

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