How culverts hurt fish and why replacing them can help

May 15, 2023

Protecting migratory habitat and wildlife corridors for big game species has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as the federal government and many Western states look for opportunities to identify, conserve, and restore migratory habitats. Roads can fragment habitat and block big game species from moving along migratory corridors, but they can also block passage for fish and other aquatic and riparian species. When a road crosses a stream, in many cases the stream is funneled through a culvert. Culverts can take a variety of forms, but many of these prevent fish and other species from moving farther upstream to reach spawning areas, reducing the quality and diversity of habitats within aquatic ecosystems.

Solving this problem can be as simple as removing problematic culverts and replacing them with bridges — which allow water to flow freely — or other structures designed with fish and other aquatic and riparian species in mind. Following culvert replacement projects, fish recolonize upstream habitat almost immediately. Other species benefit as well: with these barriers removed, aquatic species such as salamanders and frogs have more habitat accessible to them, and riparian and terrestrial species can continue traveling along the stream without having to cross the road.

Efforts to protect and connect wildlife habitat and migration routes are overwhelmingly popular. According to the Colorado College State of the Rockies 2023 Conservation in the West poll, 85 percent of Westerners support investing in the construction of crossing structures to help migrating wildlife.

Read CWP Policy Director Rachael Hamby’s new Medium blog post to learn more about the benefits of removing and replacing culverts with more wildlife migration-friendly infrastructure, including new funding sources available to states and communities for pursuing these efforts.

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How culverts hurt fish and why replacing them can help


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Quote of the day

”As hunters, we have a vested interest in making sure that species in decline are properly managed to ensure their recovery. That’s why I am such a strong supporter of the proposed BLM conservation rule. The surest way to restore the health of big game species is to improve their habitat.”

—Russell Kuhlman, executive director of the Nevada Wildlife Federation, Nevada Independent

Picture this

Mother bighorn sheep and lamb

Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you to all the moms and mom figures who feed, nurture and protect their young. These mama sheep baaa their hearts out for their ram-bunctious little lambs. Photo @BadlandsNPS by Glenda Mueller

(An example of a channel-spanning culvert which allows species and floodwater to move more freely. Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)