In this day of advanced technology and rapid communication, we can reach out and touch someone on the other side of the world within moments. Between email, our cell phones, pagers, and other gadgets, we’re all connected to one another in more ways than we ever thought possible.

How well, however, are we connected to the natural world? That river you cross every day on your way to work or school — do you know its name? That small stream that runs by your house — do you know where it goes? What watershed do you live in? Where does your drinking water come from? Have you watched a heron flying over your house every evening in the summer and ever wondered where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and why? And does the incessant peeping of frogs in the spring drive you crazy or make you smile?

More complex than a computer and driven by needs more urgent than a cell phone call, Vermont’s fish and wildlife are connected to their habitats. Indeed,

They must be, because unlike humans they can’t order oranges from Florida or wool shirts from L.L. Bean. They rely on the land and water to provide for them, and over time have learned where they must travel on the landscape to meet their needs.

You’ve probably seen the migrations of many birds, and perhaps you’re familiar with the seasonal movements of moose and bear. But did you know that in and around Vermont’s streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds there are daily, seasonal, and annual migrations taking place: steelhead running up the Willoughby River each spring, headed for spawning habitat in the upper river; herons leaving their feeding ponds each evening to return to their rookeries; juvenile lake trout moving from the lake shoals and reefs where they hatched to the deeper colder water where they will grow into adults; wood turtles leaving their winter hibernation in the stream bottom each spring to nest in the nearby woods; and red-spotted newts, after spending years on land as red efts, moving to ponds and lakes to reproduce and remain for the rest of their adult lives.

Vermont’s waters are frothing with activity. Fish move from lakes to rivers, and from rivers to streams. Salamanders move from streams to woodlands. Wood frogs move from woodlands to ponds and back woodlands. Such animal migrations can only continue, however, if Vermont’s aquatic habitats remain connected to one another and to nearby land habitats.

Think again about the river you drive across every day on your way to work or school – is there a dam across it? That stream that runs by your house, is there a culvert in it? If so, can fish swim upstream through the culvert? Can the wood turtles that hibernate in the stream migrate to woodlands nearby so they can nest and forage in spring? How many roads must the turtles cross to reach the woods?

Maintaining habitat connectivity is high priority for the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, as it seeks to meet its mission of conserving all species of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the benefit of Vermonters. In order to maintain and improve habitat connectivity in Vermont’s waters and between the waters and adjacent lands, the Department conducts the following activities:

• Fisheries staff participate in the regulatory process for hydroelectric dam re-licensing to ensure adequate fish passage

• Department staff work with a statewide team of government, nonprofit, and private partners to encourage and guide dam removal efforts throughout the state

• Biologists testify and comment in Act 250 and other permit review processes to ensure the protection of riparian and shoreline buffers, which help maintain connectivity between water and upland habitats

• Department officials work in partnership with the Vermont Agency of Transportation to ensure fish passage at culverts

• Staff provide technical guidance and outreach to towns on how to plan for and protect habitat connectivity in their communities

• The Department grants approximately $50,000 annually through the Vermont Watershed Grants program to local groups and towns for watershed improvement projects, many of which include the protection and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat connectivity

There are many ways all Vermonters can help make sure fish and wildlife are able to move freely and safely between the different habitats they need, including:

• Getting involved in local planning and zoning efforts. Most development decisions that affect the connectivity of our water resources are under local control. Encourage your town to adopt culvert and bridge guidelines that enable fish passage and to enact stream and lake buffer protection measures to protect the travel corridors of animals that move between water bodies and surrounding uplands.

• Working with state and local groups to identify dams that should be removed.

• Working with local groups to identify habitat connectivity issues in your watershed.

• Learning which fish and wildlife species live around your home, what their habitat needs are, and taking steps to make sure they can access the habitats they need. For example, if you own a meadow with a wet section, consider leaving an unmowed swath between it and the adjacent forest so wood frogs can move safely from the forest to the water for breeding.

Staying connected is one of the best things we can do to protect Vermont’s fish and wildlife.

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