Cornwall Wildlife Corridor Project
A primary focus of the Conservation Commission’s advocacy work is the support of the town’s wildlife population. In the context of Cornwall’s fragmented landscape, the long-term survival of larger mammals depends upon their ability to move with safety between the town’s core forest blocks, wetlands, and other natural areas. Maintaining the connectivity linkages between them is critically important.
For several years the Commission has gathered information, mostly anecdotal, about the movement of larger mammals between the town’s forest blocks, including where they cross town roads. We felt that field verification of these routes was a necessary next step and decided on trail cameras as the preferred method of documentation. With funding support from AVCC, the town, and individual donors, we now have six cameras capturing data. Residents have been invited to participate in the project, either by hosting a camera on their property or by adding observational data from privately-owned cameras.
Over a period of three years, it is our plan to rotate cameras through the habitat areas in the town that have been identified through ANR GPS mapping, the 2015 Cornwall Ecological Inventory, and first-hand reports of frequent wildlife sightings. The first four cameras were set out in May 2020. In two of the initial placements, use by a wide range of animals, including larger predators (bobcats and coyotes) has been ongoing and we have left these cameras in place, recording their stories of constancy and change through the seasons. The other cameras, now four in number, have been moved on a bimonthly basis, leaving them long enough to make a preliminary assessment of the area’s wildlife.
Camera disks are switched on a monthly basis. The disks are reviewed and the data of all sightings is recorded on an Excel Spreadsheet. It includes the following information: location, animal type, number, date, and time. Additional details and pictures may be attached to the observation. Camera photos are also copied to an external hard drive.
Project updates are posted in Cornwall town newsletters and on the town website in order to enlist support of residents. For people who have trail camera observations to share, we are creating a special project page in iNaturalist where wildlife pictures from their property can be shared. This information will be also be added to the project.
When a baseline of documentation across the town has been collected, a special focus of the project will then turn to the documentation of where animals are frequently crossing town roads, posing a danger to themselves and to passing cars.
The project’s long-range goal is the creation of a data bank of information that can be referred to in the Commission’s review of development applications, in town planning, in conversations with landowners, and in road safety mitigation efforts.
The Project is a multi-year endeavor. The results to date include the following:
1) In the camera placements identified on the GPS and Ecological Inventory maps as containing interior forest or habitat connectivity blocks, usage by a range of wildlife has been verified.
2) Adjacent to these same areas, if there are walking trails that are used with frequency, wildlife traffic is reduced or absent in order to avoid human (and dog) contact.
3) The number of bobcat sightings indicates that the town’s current landscape is a very good one for them. In 9 of the total 15 camera placements to date, bobcats were observed. Coyotes were present in 10 of the 15 sites. Bear were observed in 3 sites.
4) One of the nicest parts of the project has been the positive response to our newsletter descriptions of the wildlife photos and the number of invitations to host a camera.
To date, 13 Cornwall Residents have welcomed camera placements on their property.
Andy Wood, Conservation Planning Specialist, VT Fish & Wildlife has provided guidance about trail camera usage.
Greg Borah, Mammal Tracker, helped with camera location and set-up in the first stages of the project.
Currently, the CC provides the town’s Development Review Board with a natural resources review of all pending development applications. Data from this project will add to the accuracy of our reports and recommendations and can be included in the review when appropriate. Photos collected from the wildlife cameras, when relevant, will be helpful in the presentation of this data.
As the Cornwall Planning Commission moves ahead with a much-needed update of the Town Plan and Zoning Bylaws, this project can offer documentation for the important role of habitat connectivity blocks in providing protected wooded links between larger interior forest blocks. It will bring to life Cornwall’s wildlife and clarify the important road crossing areas they use.
Wildlife photos collected from these cameras will provide documentation, but photos of animals can also be powerful motivational tools, providing “faces” to the “facts.” Whether it is by removing unneeded roadside obstructions or subdividing one’s property with the needs of wildlife (and human safety) in mind, conservation choices once understood can be made. The project offers a path forward, moving residents beyond a general interest in wildlife to specific ways both they and the town can protect and support their survival.
Wildlife photos collected from these cameras can provide documentation, but photos of animals can also be powerful motivational tools, providing “faces” to the “facts.” The Conservation Commission hopes, in sharing this information, that residents and town decision-making groups move beyond a generalized interest in wildlife to specific ways to protect them and support their survival. Whether it is by removing unneeded roadside obstructions or by subdividing one’s property with the needs of wildlife (and human safety) in mind, conservation choices once understood can be made.
A framework for analysis and sharing project data needs to be developed. If the CC does not have the needed skills for this to happen, outside help will be solicited.
Reaching out to landowners to enlist their support is a critical part of this project. The project will be successful if it educates and encourages a number of Cornwall residents not only to continue to support this conservation effort, but also to step forward and join in making them happen in our town.