Environmental Management

, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 462–477 | Cite as

Dealing With Uncertainty When Assessing Fish Passage Through Culvert Road Crossings

  • Gregory B. Anderson
  • Mary C. Freeman
  • Byron J. Freeman
  • Carrie A. Straight
  • Megan M. Hagler
  • James T. Peterson


Assessing the passage of aquatic organisms through culvert road crossings has become increasingly common in efforts to restore stream habitat. Several federal and state agencies and local stakeholders have adopted assessment approaches based on literature-derived criteria for culvert impassability. However, criteria differ and are typically specific to larger-bodied fishes. In an analysis to prioritize culverts for remediation to benefit imperiled, small-bodied fishes in the Upper Coosa River system in the southeastern United States, we assessed the sensitivity of prioritization to the use of differing but plausible criteria for culvert impassability. Using measurements at 256 road crossings, we assessed culvert impassability using four alternative criteria sets represented in Bayesian belief networks. Two criteria sets scored culverts as either passable or impassable based on alternative thresholds of culvert characteristics (outlet elevation, baseflow water velocity). Two additional criteria sets incorporated uncertainty concerning ability of small-bodied fishes to pass through culverts and estimated a probability of culvert impassability. To prioritize culverts for remediation, we combined estimated culvert impassability with culvert position in the stream network relative to other barriers to compute prospective gain in connected stream habitat for the target fish species. Although four culverts ranked highly for remediation regardless of which criteria were used to assess impassability, other culverts differed widely in priority depending on criteria. Our results emphasize the value of explicitly incorporating uncertainty into criteria underlying remediation decisions. Comparing outcomes among alternative, plausible criteria may also help to identify research most needed to narrow management uncertainty.


Culvert Fish passage Stream habitat Imperiled fishes Bayesian belief network 


  1. Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) (2010) Fish passage improvement program. http://www.sf.adfg.state.ak.us/SARR/Fishpassage/fishpass.cfm. Accessed 2 April 2010
  2. Albanese B, Angermeier PL, Peterson JT (2009) Does mobility explain variation in colonisation and population recovery among stream fishes? Freshwater Biology 54:1444–1460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allendorf FW, Luikart G (2007) Conservation and the genetics of populations. Blackwell Publishing, Madlen 642Google Scholar
  4. Bates KM, Barnard RJ, Heiner B, Klavas JP, Powers PD (2003) Design of road culverts for fish passage. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), OlympiaGoogle Scholar
  5. Belford DA, Gould WR (1989) An evaluation of trout passage through six highway culverts in Montana. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 9:437–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benton PD, Ensign WE, Freeman BJ (2008) The effect of road crossings on fish movements in small Etowah basin streams. Southeastern Naturalist 7:301–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bourne CM, Kehler DG, Wiersma YF, Cote D (2011) Barriers to fish passage and barriers to fish passage assessments: the impact of assessment methods and assumptions on barrier identification and quantification of watershed connectivity. Aquatic Ecology 45:389–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clarkin K, Connor A, Furniss MJ, Gubernic B, Love M, Moyan K, Musser SW (2005) National inventory and assessment procedure for identifying barriers to aquatic organism passage at road-stream crossings. United States Forest Service (USFS) San Dimas Technology and Development Center, San DimasGoogle Scholar
  9. Coffman JS (2005) Evaluation of a predictive model for upstream fish passage through culverts. M.S. Thesis, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, p 104Google Scholar
  10. Cote D, Kehler DG, Bourne C, Wiersma YF (2009) A new measure of longitudinal connectivity for stream networks. Landscape Ecology 24:101–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coupé VMH, van der Gaag LC (2002) Properties of sensitivity analysis of Bayesian belief networks. Annals of Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence 36:323–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Derksen AJ (1980) Evaluation of fish passage through culverts at the Goose Creek road crossing near Churchill, Manitoba, in April and May 1977. Manitoba Department of Natural Resources, Manuscript Report 80-4. Winnipeg, p 103Google Scholar
  13. Detenbeck NE, DeVore PW, Niemi GJ, Lima A (1992) Recovery of temperate-stream fish communities from disturbance: a review of case studies and synthesis of theory. Environmental Management 16:33–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Diebel M, Fedora M, Cogswell S (2010) Prioritizing road crossing improvement to restore stream connectivity for stream-resident fish. In: Wagner PJ, Nelson D, Murray E (eds) Proceedings of the 2009 International Conference on Ecology and Transportation. Center for Transportation and the Environment, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, p 647–660Google Scholar
  15. Dudgeon D, Arthington AH, Gessner MO, Kawabata Z-I, Knowler DJ, Lévêque C, Naiman RJ, Prieur-Richard A-H, Soto D, Stiassny MLJ, Sullivan CA (2006) Freshwater biodiversity: importance, threats, status and conservation challenges. Biological Reviews 81:163–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fausch KD, Young MK (1995) Evolutionarily significant units and movements of resident stream fishes: a cautionary tale. In: Nielsen JL (ed) Evolution and the aquatic ecosystem: defining unique units in population conservation. American Fisheries Society Symposium 17, American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, p 360–370Google Scholar
  17. Fausch KD, Rieman BE, Dunham JB, Young MK, Peterson DP (2009) Invasion versus isolation: trade-offs in managing native salmonids with barriers to upstream movement. Conservation Biology 23:859–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Freeman MC, Pringle CM, Greathouse EA, Freeman BJ (2003) Ecosystem-level consequences of migratory faunal depletion caused by dams. In: Limburg KE, Waldman JR (eds) Biodiversity, status and conservation of the world’s shads. American Fisheries Society, Symposium 35, American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, p 255–266Google Scholar
  19. Freeman MC, Irwin ER, Burkhead NM, Freeman BJ, Bart HL Jr. (2005) Status and conservation of fish fauna of the Alabama River system. In: Rinne JN, Hughes RM, Calamusso R (eds) Historical changes in large river fish assemblages of the Americas. American Fisheries Society Symposium 45, Bethesda, p 557–585Google Scholar
  20. Gagen CJ, Rajput S (2002) The effects of road crossings on fish community structure and abundance in streams of the Ouachita Mountains. Report to the United States Forest Service (USFS), Hot SpringsGoogle Scholar
  21. Gibson JR, Haedrich RL, Wernerheim CM (2005) Loss of fish habitat as a consequence of inappropriately constructed stream crossings. Fisheries 30(1):10–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Helfman GS (2007) Fish conservation: a guide to understanding and restoring global aquatic biodiversity and fishery resources. Island Press, Washington DC, p 584Google Scholar
  23. Kemp PS, O’Hanley JR (2010) Procedures for evaluating and prioritizing the removal of fish passage barriers: a synthesis. Fisheries Management and Ecology 17:297–322Google Scholar
  24. Marcot BG, Holthausen RS, Raphael MG, Rowland MM, Wisdom MJ (2001) Using Bayesian belief networks to evaluate fish and wildlife population viability under land management alternatives from an environmental impact statement. Forest Ecology and Management 153:29–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Marcot BG, Steventon JD, Sutherland GD, McCann RK (2006) Guidelines for developing and updating Bayesian belief networks applied to ecological modeling and conservation. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36:3063–3074CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Meffe GK, Sheldon AL (1990) Post-defaunation recovery of fish assemblages in southeastern blackwater streams. Ecology 71:657–667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Millington HK (2004) Developing engineering design criteria for ecologically sound stream crossings for endangered fish in Georgia. M.S. Thesis, University of Georgia, Athens, p 147Google Scholar
  28. Milone & MacBroom, Inc. (2009) The Vermont culvert aquatic organism passage screening tool. Milone & MacBroon, Inc. South BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  29. Mirati AH Jr (1999) Assessment of road culverts for fish passage problems on state-and county-owned roads. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, PortlandGoogle Scholar
  30. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)-Southwest Region (2001) Guidelines for salmonid passage at stream crossings. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Long BeachGoogle Scholar
  31. Neville HM, Dunham JB, Peacock MM (2006) Landscape attributes and life history variability shape genetic structure of trout populations in a stream network. Landscape Ecology 21:901–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Norman J, Franzen E, Millington H, Ensign B, Wenger S, Freeman M, Hagler M (2006) Stream crossing and culvert design policy. Etowah aquatic habitat conservation plan technical committee report, Athens. http://www.etowahhcp.org/research/documents/tech_rpt_stream_crossings_4-30-07.pdf. Accessed 1 July 2010
  33. Norman JR, Hagler MM, Freeman MC, Freeman BJ (2009) Application of a multistate model to estimate culvert effects on movement of small fishes. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 138:826–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. O’Hanley JR, Tomberlin D (2005) Optimizing the removal of small fish passage barriers. Environmental Modeling and Assessment 10:85–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) (2010) Fish programs: fish passage. http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/passage. Accessed 2 April 2010
  36. Osborne LL, Wiley MJ (1992) Influence of tributary spatial position on the structure of warmwater fish assemblages. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science 49:671–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Page LM, Burr BM (2011) Peterson field guide to freshwater fishes of North America North of Mexico, 2nd edn. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, p 688Google Scholar
  38. Peterson JT, Evans JW (2003) Quantitative decision analysis for sport fisheries management. Fisheries 28(1):10–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Petts GE (1984) Impounded rivers: perspectives for ecological management. Wiley, Chichester, p 326Google Scholar
  40. Poff NL, Hart DD (2002) How dams vary and why it matters for the emerging science of dam removal. BioScience 52:659–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (QDPIF) (2004) Fish passage in streams: design considerations. Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  42. Reback KE, Brady PD, McLaughlin KD, Milliken CG (2004) A survey of fish passage in coastal Massachusetts, parts 1–4. Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Technical Report TR-15, 16, 17, and 18, PocassetGoogle Scholar
  43. River and Stream Continuity Partnership (RSCP) (2006) Massachusetts River and stream crossing standards. http://www.streamcontinuity.org/pdf_files/MA_Crossing_Stds_3-1-06.pdf. Accessed 2 April 2010
  44. Roghair CN, Dolloff CA (2005) Brook trout movement during and after recolonization of a naturally defaunated stream reach. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25:777–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schaefer JF, Marsh-Matthews E, Spooner DE, Gido KB, Matthews WJ (2003) Effects of barriers and thermal refugia on local movement of the threatened leopard darter, Percina pantherina. Environmental Biology of Fishes 66:391–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stewart-Koster B, Bunn SE, Mackay SJ, Poff NL, Naiman RE, Lake PS (2010) The use of Bayesian networks to guide investments in flow and catchment restoration for impaired river ecosystems. Freshwater Biology 55:243–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Strayer DL (2006) Challenges for freshwater invertebrate conservation. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 25:271–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Taylor RN, Love M (2003) Part IX: fish passage evaluation at stream crossings. California Department of Fish and Game, SacramentoGoogle Scholar
  49. Toepfer CS, Fisher WL, Haubelt JA (1999) Swimming performance of the threatened leopard darter in relation to road culverts. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 128:155–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Utzinger J, Roth C, Peter A (1998) Effects of environmental parameters on the distribution of bullhead Cottus gobio with particular consideration of the effects of obstructions. Journal of Applied Ecology 35:882–892CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. van der Gaag LC, Coupé VMH (2000) Sensitivity analysis for threshold decisions making with Bayesian belief networks. In: Lamma E, Mello P (eds) AI*IA 99: Advances in artificial intelligence. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, pp 37–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Walters DM, Leigh DS, Freeman MC, Freeman BJ, Pringle CM (2003) Geomorphology and fish assemblages in a Piedmont river basin, USA. Freshwater Biology 48:1950–1970CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ward JV, Stanford JA (1979) Ecological factors controlling stream zoobenthos with emphasis on thermal modifications of regulated streams. In: Ward JV, Stanford JA (eds) The ecology of regulated streams. Plenum Press, New York, pp 35–55Google Scholar
  54. Warren ML Jr, Pardew MG (1998) Stream crossings as barriers to small-stream fish movement. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 127:637–644CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) (2009) Fish passage barrier and surface water diversion screening assessment and prioritization manual. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, OlympiaGoogle Scholar
  56. Wenger SJ, Peterson JT, Freeman MC, Freeman BJ, Homans DD (2008) Stream fish occurrence in response to impervious cover, historic land use and hydrogeomorphic factors. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 65:1250–1264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wenger SJ, Hagler MM, Freeman BJ (2009) Prioritizing areas of the Conasauga River sub-basin in Georgia and Tennessee for preservation and restoration. Southeastern Fishes Council Proceedings 51:31–38Google Scholar
  58. Wenger SJ, Freeman MC, Fowler LA, Freeman BJ, Peterson JT (2010) Conservation planning for imperiled aquatic species in an urbanizing environment. Landscape and Urban Planning 97:11–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA) 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory B. Anderson
    • 1
    • 5
  • Mary C. Freeman
    • 2
  • Byron J. Freeman
    • 3
  • Carrie A. Straight
    • 1
  • Megan M. Hagler
    • 1
  • James T. Peterson
    • 4
    • 6
  1. 1.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research CenterUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.Odum School of Ecology and Georgia Museum of Natural HistoryUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  4. 4.United States Geological Survey, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  5. 5.Department of Fish and Wildlife ConservationVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityVirginiaUSA
  6. 6.USGS Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitCorvallisUSA

Personalised recommendations