Just Say “No” to Roads Through Jekyll Island State
Park’s Maritime Forests and Wetlands
Atlanta Metro Coordinator
Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park
“Roads affect much more than strips of land several yards wide,” notes John T.T. Forman, Professor of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University and author of Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. “They impact wildlife movement, biodiversity, vegetation, water quality, sedimentation of streams, and other natural things for miles around.” 1 Because roads slice and divide local systems and impact upon land use, road planning must therefore involve the whole field of landscape ecology, including the sciences of animal behavior, wildlife biology, ecology of plants and population, soil science, forestry, hydrology, and chemistry, as well as engineering and transportation planning. 2
Linger Longer Communities, the newly selected Private Revitalization Partner of the Jekyll Island Authority, has put forth a plan that would create a patchwork ecology within an established maritime forest and wetland across from the proposed new convention complex and retail district in Jekyll Island State Park. This wildlife-rich area stretches from the existing Beachview Drive to Shell Road and extends deep into the interior of the island. Designated as a “Nature Preserve” on the JIA’s Master Plan Concept Map, the area is the habitat of at least one pair of nesting bald eagles and borders a feeding ground for the endangered wood stork.
The landscape designers of Linger Longer Communities advocate creating a network of four new roads and moving Beachview Drive from its present location to a meandering route through the forest and along a tidal marshland without apparent forethought, knowledge, or awareness of the harm that such a proposal entails. For images of the area in question and Linger Longer’s proposed road network, go to www.savejekyllisland.org/PicturesC.html.
The negative impact of roads takes place on a macro scale as well as on a micro scale. Says John A. Bissonette, Leader of the USGS Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Professor of Forest, Range, and Wildlife Science in the College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, “There is perhaps no greater anthropogenic influence on landscape connectivity than roads. Roads have both direct (animal mortality) and indirect (loss of landscape permeability resulting in fragmentation) effects. In effect, how roads are constructed will in large measure determine if the landscape is permeable, semi-permeable, or impermeable to animal movements; in other words, the degree of landscape fragmentation as perceived by individual organisms.” 3 Roads that split the landscape fragment habitat and restrict animal movement, either directly by forming barriers that animals will not cross, or indirectly by creating noise and pollution that has profound and far reaching effects on animals and birds. Roads further promote the spread of invasive plant and animal species that thrive on roadsides, and alter water and sediment flow patterns, affecting the aquatic ecosystems. 4
Roads negatively affect ecological systems in a variety of ways
Mortality from direct collisions with vehicles. Road kill occurrences may be greatest on roads with intermediate volume, where narrower rights-of-way provide limited visibility. Major roads within the state park might be so classified.
Restriction of the movement of animal species, limiting access to mates and resources, causing inbreeding and other disturbances. Some animals will not cross roads, and the existing population is thus fragmented along with habitat, causing a problem which many conservation biologists consider the major threat to biological diversity. Animals that show aversion to roads decrease in population density near the roads. Consequently, as development decreases habitat, the remaining wildlife is compressed into smaller and smaller fragmented patches.
Degradation of habitat by pollution, noise, dust, and light, during construction, maintenance, and use of the roads. Animals may suffer altered activity patterns, become stressed, and suffer elevated heart rates. Animals that communicate by auditory signals, such as birds, are disadvantaged. Some species show abnormal reproductive behavior in response to noise. Increasing levels of lead are found in soils near roads, and this lead moves through vegetation and up the food chain into the bodies of the wildlife, where the toxicity impairs reproduction and causes abnormal levels of mortality. Road construction kills animals and plants directly and exposes low nutrient subsoils, reducing water holding capacity and compacting surface materials.
Invasion of the ecosystem by opportunistic species. Roads that cut through an intact forest create “edge habitat,” which allows weedy and exotic plants and opportunistic animal species to spread into the forest interior and invade and degrade existing native habitat. Automotive traffic additionally adds to the spread of invasive species. Such changes may be more harmful to the forest than the effects of clear cutting.
Altered watersheds. Road construction changes water quality and quantity and ground water levels. Increased impervious surfaces result in increased runoff. Ditches dug for road drainage also drain adjacent wetlands. Water flow concentrated by roads increases erosion. Crossing a stream with a road results in diverted flow patterns, increasing sedimentation, negatively impacting wetlands and increasing flooding.
Increased access by humans and predatory animals. Increased human traffic into a pristine maritime forest brings with it noise, pollution, and a host of harmful behaviors. Road aversion is increased in large part by the animal’s fear of human activity. Humans collect plants, harm animals, create litter, and cause fires. New roads increase pressures and provide opportunities for increased development, the most devastating effect of all. 5
Granted, the damage caused by the construction of existing roads in Jekyll Island State Park has already been done. Apparently, generations of flora and fauna in the park have adapted over time to what has already been put in place. But why repeat past mistakes and cause bigger problems? For those who claim stewardship of the natural environment and the wildlife of the park to contemplate the re-routing of Beachview Drive, the addition of new roads, and the redesign of the island’s interior for aesthetic and commercial purposes is nothing short of a crime against nature.
Linger Longer's traffic plan and greenspace design look pretty on paper. They might even serve to ease some of the congestion within an ambitious town center suddenly crowded with shopping, restaurants, over 1,100 residential units, and day visitors struggling to find beach parking. However, the current proposal must go back to the drawing board. Its cost, in terms of damage to the ecosystems, wildlife, and pristine character of Jekyll Island State Park, is much too high.
The Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island stands behind the responsible revitalization of Jekyll Island, redeveloping existing hotels and enhancing convention facilities and family dining opportunities. We are working towards advocacy within the General Assembly for legislation that would protect Jekyll Island State Park from inappropriate and damaging development. Statewide support will be necessary to initiate and advance that legislation.
2. Forman, John T.T., “Spatial Models as an Emerging Foundation of Road system Ecology and a Handle for Transportation Planning and Policy.”
4. Lloyd, John, “Road Ecology,” Encyclopedia of Earth www.eoearth.org/article/Road_ecology