Having been raised in a rural community, I easily remember many road accidents. Measurements were taken as early as 1837, when Canadian Richard McFarlan designed a fishway to bypass the dam of his own mill. This valuable idea gave rise to our modern and very beautiful wildlife bridges which were designed and built.
Deer and elk have created life-threatening hazards on two-lane roads as well as multi-lane highways, for over 300 people each year. There are over a million car accidents every year with over $10 million in vehicle repairs and medical bills.
These accidents also threaten nearly 25 endangered species. Fewer accidents like these will mean fewer insurance claims, which will free up more funds for building more wildlife bridges on major roads.
If your cost estimates take into account the well-being of wildlife ecosystems, this problem gets worse and the numbers go up. There are over a million animals killed every day, which is the highest death sentence for many vertebrates. Animal populations are subdivided and habitats are fragmented.
Many crossings have been around for years, including tunnels, culverts, bridges and overpasses, but safer measures for everyone involved include green bridges covered in native vegetation. This idea first took root in France in the 1950s, exhibited in the Netherlands where there are almost seven hundred mammal crossings, including the world’s longest viaduct which reaches half a mile.
It took until 2021 for the concept to take strong hold in the United States, but it works for animals such as the endangered Florida panther.
In 1995, Davis, California built a six-inch tunnel (ecoduct) to allow the frogs to pass under a road to a wetland on the other side called Toad Hollow, which the toads ignored. However, we did better with 20 other crossings that resulted in a sharp decline in animal-related accidents in central Arizona for elk populations.
In 2018, Washington State’s Interstate 90, a six-lane highway, brought at least two bridges and several underpasses between the North and South Cascades. Even before it was finished deer were using it at Snoqualmie Pass.
The best way for viaducts is to integrate them now into new constructions, which prove to be profitable in the long term.
Japan has the concept of turtle tunnels under their train tracks, while Victoria, Australia has built a small rope bridge, originally designed for squirrel gliders but later taken over by cockatoos.
Banff National Park in Canada has underground passages for grizzly bears so they can take their time crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, while Amherst, Massachusetts has a small animal passage that salamanders can cross safely. security, which they use regularly.
Eastern Washington has a salmon cannon on the Columbia River to help bring the species back to the Upper Columbia River.
Utah battles Slaughter Row, which sits on a six-way intersection that’s now far less dangerous to local wildlife.
Perhaps President Biden’s new infrastructure bill will include some for other wildlife in need.
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.