Barbara Charry, Watching the Roads

Barbara Charry is a Wildlife Biologist and GIS Manager at Maine Audubon. “Looking back on my career path in conservation,” she says, “it seems clear that I have always focused on making science understandable and useable for decision makers.” For Charry who moved quite a lot growing up, one experience stands out: working at a local nature center in Westport, Connecticut with other young naturalists. “I started out as an English major,” she laughs, “and through internships and working as a wildlife rehabilitator and naturalist, eventually realized that working as a conservation biologist was the best way for me to help, to help, to make a difference.”

Charry moved to Maine 20 years ago and began working to get critical habitat information into the hands of policy makers. “We have so much intact habitat in Maine,” she explains, “but we also understand what it means to lose that habitat. The level of threat to our wildlife has been steadily rising. Then you throw climate change into the mix.” She has written several guides for land use decision makers and community members on the impacts of development on wildlife including a community conservation guide, “Conserving Wildlife On and Around Maine Roads.”

Charry depends on people, local citizens, to get involved in the data collection, identifying animal routes and connectivity hotspots. “Once we have the data, we can make recommendations to local and state policy makers, conservationists, and transportation decision-makers,” she says. Over 400 people have registered with the Wildlife Road Watch program she manages, offering more than 4,000 observations of road kill and successful road crossing, from moose to frogs.

“Conservation takes time,” Charry cautions. “It’s a process of gathering data, then creating solutions. We try to be proactive with our recommendations—getting in there early when projects are being proposed and reviewed is important. The Department of Transportation is our partner in this process. We are developing information they need to make decisions about connectivity. We might recommend building culverts or increasing the amount of land conserved on either side of a road.”

Some of the most vulnerable species in Charry’s region include Blanding’s turtles, spotted turtles, black racer snakes, and New England cottontail rabbits. “Some of these populations, like the cottontails, have been incredibly fragmented—we’ve seen genetically different populations on either side of a highway!”

Charry’s favorite species? “I’d have to say the turtles. They are so amazing. Blanding’s turtles live as long as we do. They don’t even start breeding until they are ten years old. They move from vernal pool to vernal pool—the young are popcorn for raccoons and so few of them survive to adulthood. It blows my mind—the way they start life at one pool, and come back to that same spot, year after year.”