Helping Animals Cross the Road

Melanie Schlosser

All animals succeed by moving throughout our environments. It’s in our nature to seek resources. As people, we get around largely by driving from place to place. Other animals do not have cars, nor can they use roads like we do: instead, they must walk through yards, bolt across highways, and hope that they make it safely to the other side. Along highways, environmental corridors buffer against the backyards of residential streets. They are often tree-lined and lush to keep noise away from people. Sometimes, medians between highway lanes are similarly tree-lined and lush, landscaped with pockets of water and other attractive features. Animals that walk along one corridor might want to cross to the median –essentially another corridor—and get to the other on the far side of the highway. Without a means of safely crossing, millions of animals die by car each year.

As many people look away or cry when seeing an animal killed while crossing a road, communities have come together to petition, pass ordinances, and build structures to help animals make safer journeys across our roads. Constructing wildlife crossings can give animals a fighting chance, protecting them and people in cars from fatal collisions, as well as connecting animal migration routes. Wildlife crossings often camouflage as bridges or tunnels, or overpasses or underpasses. But, building wildlife crossings can be expensive: sometimes, reaching into the multi-millions. However, considering the steep cost of building roadways, filling potholes, and landscaping buffers and medians, it seems fair to similarly invest in the animals that fall victim to our modes of transportation. Wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Americans upwards of eight-billion dollars annually; it is intuitive to prevent animal deaths, driver deaths, and vehicle damage by collectively constructing wildlife crossings through government funding. While there are no hard and fast laws requiring wildlife crossings, it might be in the public interest for state and federal governments to protect its wildlife populations, prevent car damage, and protect car passengers from watching animals die while driving from one place to another.

 While many wildlife crossings are in designing or building phases, many have been established for years. Sometimes, specific animals like panthers are at the heart of a local crossing project. In New Jersey, ‘turtle tunnels’ have helped wood turtles safely travel from winter wetlands to their spring breeding grounds, their habitats being bisected by roads. While designed for turtles, diverse species like snakes, frogs, and raccoons have frequented the tunnels. Through the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, the state has committed to growing and maintaining wildlife crossings with its Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey program.

Other projects have worked directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In Florida, there are at least sixty wildlife crossings built to protect panthers from collisions with vehicles; the state has found panther deaths have decreased significantly in areas with crossings. prove effective in states like Florida designed primarily to protect panthers. While building crossings above or below existing highways can be expensive, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that incorporating crossings during the design phase of a roadway can be more cost-effective.

The federal government has gotten involved in state projects, too. The Department of Transportation has initiated several projects in cooperation with state and municipal departments. States like Idaho and Colorado might have wildlife crossings installed over or under busy roads within the next few years. For an example of a project in progress, a project in Idaho started with a collection of data of the number of killed animals along a certain stretch of road and within a certain timeframe. In addition, the seasonal ranges of animal populations and their trails informed where a crossing would be most beneficial. To complete the project, several state and city departments will continue to work alongside the federal government; eventually, an overpass will be built and equipped with cameras. Whether in the form of greened tunnels or bridges, our roads are slowly becoming more friendly to our car-less friends. Wildlife crossings have already proven to reduce wildlife-vehicular collisions, enabling animals to safely move across highways. Overpasses and underpasses are also helping wildlife in more subtle and long-term ways, like through supporting migration patterns and connecting isolated populations from different corridors. Our highways are the arteries of our communities: it’s about time our local, state, and federal governments work to support the movement and health of our animal communities.

2 Responses

  1. Such an informative read. Thank you Melanie for this enlightening article. I’m with you on this!

  2. What a compelling article! Great job Melanie!

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