Portland State Magazine Fall 2022

research ANIMAL CROSSINGS PSU researchers help map where wildlife roam in hopes of creating safer passage WHY DID THE FROG CROSS THE ROAD? To get to the other side, of course, so it could mate and lay eggs. But the treacherous trip across two roads, busy Highway 30, and two sets of railroad tracks can be fatal for the northern red-legged frog, which is endangered in Oregon.That’s why volunteers with the Harborton Frog Shuttle have been scooping up the frogs and transporting them back and forth between Portland’s Forest Park and their winter breeding site in the Harborton wetlands since 2014, until a more sustainable, long-term solution can be found. That humans must venture out at night with buckets and flashlights to disrupt this real-life game of Frogger is “a symptom of a disease we’re trying to correct for,” said Leslie Bliss-Ketchum ’07 PhD ’19, founder and owner of environmental consulting firm Samara Group. She’s part of a collaborative group of PSU researchers, government officials, and others hoping to improve wildlife connectivity, one of the state’s key conservation issues according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Many species rely on the ability to roam through the landscape to successfully find food, water, shelter, and mates, but barriers like roads, buildings, railroads, and power lines often restrict their movement. “Connectivity is really vital for the functional ecosystems that we depend on,” said Catherine de Rivera, professor of environmental science and management and PSU’s lead on the project. “Where we see fragmentation and barriers to connectivity, we see inbreeding and a decrease in population size and stability.” The Oregon Connectivity Assessment and Mapping Project, led by ODFW, has brought together ecologists, geographic information systems (GIS) analysts, and statisticians to analyze and map the movement needs of 54 species ranging from as small as a bee to as large as a bighorn sheep and elk.The animals serve as surrogates for a broad diversity of species across the state, as well as their habitat needs and movement abilities. A beaver, for example, stands in for multiple species that require habitat along the banks of rivers. While individual groups and efforts like the Harborton Frog Shuttle have identified connectivity needs for individual species or local areas, there hasn’t been information for the state more broadly, said Rachel Wheat, wildlife connectivity coordinator at ODFW and the project’s lead. The group aims to change that. Using new approaches and state-of-the-art modeling, the group has turned raw data into a usable map of priority wildlife corridors. Once completed, it can be used by state and federal agencies, conservation groups, and others to target areas in need of restoration and protection, to inform land use and permitting for renewable energy projects, and to help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions. SO-MIN KANG Leslie Bliss-Ketchum, founder of environmental consulting firm Samara Group. 12 // PORTLAND STATE MAGAZINE