Animal road crossings ensure safe passage for wildlife

Animal road crossings ensure safe passage for wildlife

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

Animal road crossings ensure safe passage for wildlife

From the Making Biodiversity Count Series

By Jaime Clifton-Ross, Communication and Outreach Curator, National Environmental Treasure

Biodiversity Action Agenda Item 1.1

The key to biodiversity conservation and regeneration is connection—between wildlife, people, agencies and place, and networks—to ensure large landscape connectivity so essential for biodiversity access to abundant and not merely adequate habitat.

From Victoria to St. John’s, the Trans-Canada Highway stretches across 8030 km of landscape in Canada. While it covers a lot of ground, it also fractures many habitats that are home to a variety of animals. Deer, moose, bears, and even birds and turtles regularly make dangerous crossings along highways and rural roads They move around or migrate long distances in search of habitat, food, shelter, and mates. And some journeys are quite remarkable. Thousands of Barren-ground Caribou travel towards the Arctic tundra every spring to find food and suitable habitat to have their calves. In autumn, they turn back to reach warmer regions. However, they face many obstacles during their long journeys.

Pastel drawing of two big horn sheep surround by nature
"Rocky Pioneers", by Leanne Cadden, pastel

As our modern roadways become increasingly busy more and more collisions are occurring. When travelling through Newfoundland, you can often spot signs along highways tallying the number of yearly moose collisions, which is dangerous for animals and for humans. While animals face many obstacles during their long journeys, roadways can be one of the deadliest. Animal and vehicle collisions happen regularly, especially where roads fracture habitat. It estimates that 1 million animal-vehicle collisions happen every year in the US costing over $8 billion dollars as a result of medical costs, towing, clean-up, vehicle repairs, etc. And according to the Globe and Mail, as of 2018, there were an estimated 14,000 collisions each year in Ontario alone. While collisions with smaller animals like porcupines and skunks are often underreported, in some regions of Canada, this issue is pushing some species to the edge, including snapping turtles.

Ensuring Large Landscape Connectivity

But don’t despair. There are viable solutions to maintain habitat connectivity even across busy roads. Item one from the Biodiversity Action Agenda co-authored by Women for Nature, ensure large landscape connectivity, emphasizes the need for conservation, regeneration, and connection between wildlife habitats. Building wildlife crossings, in the form of underpasses and overpasses, has proven to be a successful mitigation strategy in many regions across the world. This green infrastructure is designed to connect and protect biodiversity, as it fosters wildlife movement, breeding, feeding and gives animals access to vital habitat. These structures look similar to overpasses and underpasses used by cars and pedestrians along highways, however, they’re designed exclusively for animals. Coupled with fencing and native vegetation, they funnel animals towards these safe crossings.

Wildlife overpass crossing along Trans-Canada Highway
Trans-Canada Highway in Alberta, Canada, in the Banff National Park, between Banff and Lake Louise. Image by Qyd via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In the 1980s, Banff National Park began building an underpass and overpass system, specially designed for animals. Before it was installed, there were up to 100 elk collisions every year along The Banff National Park stretch of the highway. Amazingly, the crossings drastically reduced this number to roughly 6 per year. Deer, elk, moose and even wolves, grizzly bears, and eventually lynx began using the crossings. As wildlife adapted to using the new crossings, their habitats were reconnected, according to Vox. Other examples of wildlife crossings in Canada include Windsor, where a series of overpasses were built to allow snakes, deer and other animals to cross a new extension of the 401 highway.

ARC: Animal Road Crossings

To ensure safe passage for both wildlife and humans across busy highways, ARC: Animal Road Crossing is building bridges (literally and figuratively) to help tackle this growing issue. As an interdisciplinary partnership led by one of our board members, Nina-Marie Lister, they are developing “new methods, new materials, new thinking, and new solutions” to reconnect the landscape. They began with a design competition back in 2010 that challenged diverse design teams to find solutions for animal road-crossing structures. To successfully reconnect the North American landscape, they had to be “cost-efficient, ecologically responsive, safe and flexible”.

Barren ground caribou grazing with autumn foliage in background
Image by Bauer, Erwin and Peggy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

ARC, however, is taking the idea of road-crossing structures one step further. They are turning their innovative designs into “living, learning laboratories” that not only track animal movement but also use monitoring devices to bring the natural world to ours. The project tells stories about the possibility of reconnection and reconciliation. They are stacking two worlds together while encouraging us to rethink space and reweave the landscape. Check out (Re)Connecting Wild, a wonderful documentary about “the remarkable story of the decade-long effort by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and its partners to improve human safety by re-connecting an historic mule deer migration that crosses over both US-93 and I-80 in rural Elko County, Nevada”.

How can you make biodiversity count?

Share the (Re)Connecting Wild: Restoring Safe Passage with your friends, family, and colleagues to help spread the word about the need for wildlife crossings. Contact your local decision-makers, your member of provincial/territorial parliament, and your federal Member of Parliament to inform them of ARC Solutions.

About Making Biodiversity Count Series

In February 2019, the Biodiversity Action Agenda, authored by Women for Nature was published. It asks all Canadians to take immediate action on biodiversity loss as there is no recovery from extinction. As a 24-point action agenda, it offers a combination of actions, including low-hanging fruit as well as long-term systemic changes. Follow our blog for bi-weekly posts exploring each action.