Keep Your Eyes Out For Wonderful Wildlife Crossings As You Hit The Highways For Vacation

As Americans make travel plans and get out on the highways, they face many tedious hours in the car. However, watching the native wildlife and spotting wildflowers along the way can be a memorable and enjoyable part of your vacation. If you love our wildlife, you’ll also love spotting structures built with them in mind: wildlife crossings.

Chances are you’ve spotted crossing before but didn’t realize it. They can appear like an ordinary overpass, except overgrown with plants – that’s part of the design. Wildlife crossings often have natural vegetation on them to encourage animals to use them instead of daring to enter the dangerous roads. That protects both you and the wildlife.

In addition to these over and underpasses, there are other structures to spot, geared for different animal species’ behavior. According to EcoWatch:

“Biologists believe each species’ preferences are based on their environment and how they evolved. For example, ungulates with antlers (deer, elk, moose) prefer open structures like an overpass. Smaller animals that are used to more cover are more comfortable in small crossings like a culvert. Eventually, mother animals teach their young to use them, passing along the intergenerational knowledge just like other behaviors.”

Where to spot wildlife crossings

One of the best spots to see wildlife crossings is on the Flathead Indian reservation in Montana along U.S. Highway 93. The ‘The People’s Way’ reconstruction project includes over 80 different structures along the route, protecting animals like badgers, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, and bears.

See video of wildlife using the wildlife crossings below from People’s Way Partnership- Wildlife Crossing Structures:

If you’re head to Minnesota, you might drive over a much smaller project created just for turtles on Highway 4. Washington County created a turtle tunnel in 2014, based on designs from Germany. The culvert has slots in the top to allow light to come in, making it more tempting for aquatic turtles to enter.
Before construction, aquatic turtles were being killed on the road as they traveled between their wintering area at Big Marine Lake and their summer nesting area.
See the story from LOCAL 12:

If your vacation takes you to Colorado, you can spot the Highway 9 Wildlife Crossing Project. Responding to the more than 3,000 wildlife/ vehicle collisions each year in the state, authorities, residents, and landowners worked together. They created two large overpass bridges, escape ramps, and five smaller underpasses. To help funnel the wildlife to the crossings, they built more than 20 miles of fencing.
In the two decades before construction in 2016, over 200 people were injured and 16 people killed along the highway. Now, people using the roadways and wildlife are much safer. Wildlife managers say there was a 90 percent reduction in collisions. Animals became used the structures and used them regularly.
See the project from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department below:

If you are headed to the state of Washington, you might visit the central Cascades, spanning Snoqualmie Pass and bisected by Interstate 90. There you can spot over 20 wildlife crossings along a 15-mile stretch of freeway. The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project helps the wildlife of all sizes and shapes. The elevated six-lane Gold Creek Bridges allow thousands of people to drive by as deer, and other critters easily walk, crawl, hop, or slither underneath.
See the wildlife crossings over and under I-90 from Conservation Northwest below:

Meanwhile, in California, the Harbor Boulevard Wildlife Underpass allows passage for animals along the 31-mile Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor. Because of the crossing, animals can travel between “4,600 acres of publicly protected habitat to the west and about 14,000 acres of publicly protected habitat to the east.”

The underpass has likely saved the local bobcat population. According to the Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority, animals adapted quickly to use the tunnel.

“Just nine days after the grand opening celebration of the underpass, deer were photographed using the tunnel. Coyotes and deer appear to regularly use the underpass and bobcat have been detected using the tunnel as well.”

More projects to create wildlife crossings are in the works for California.

Plans for the largest catwalk in America were unveiled in 2015. A $30 million overpass across one of Los Angeles County’s busiest freeways will protect extremely rare mountain lions and other wildlife in Griffith Park. The bridge is within sight of the Hollywood sign but will allow wildlife access to the Santa Monica mountains. The expected completion date is 2022, relying on donations.
See the story from CBS This Morning below:

Do animals use wildlife crossings?

Can animals learn to use wildlife crossings? Studies from the 80s in Canada prove they do. At Banff National Park, the Trans-Canada Highway was killing hundreds of elk a year as it cut through the forest. The highway separated the animals, resulting in the potential for inbreeding and higher competition for resources.
Canadian authorities installed a system of underpasses and overpasses along with fencing to funnel animals toward the crossings. They covered the passes with natural plantings to encourage animals to try them out. Before long, even the more skittish wolves, lynxes, and grizzly bears were regularly crossing the highway in safety. The fatalities for elk dropped to a fraction of what it was before the installations. The animals also benefit from having access to more extensive territories, resources, and mates.

The data backs up the need for wildlife crossings

A 2010 design competition to develop better wildlife crossings called ARC, Animal Road Crossings, resulted in lower cost, innovative designs. The project came up with groundbreaking, ecologically sustainable designs that incorporated recyclable, and reusable modular materials.

One of the winning designs was scheduled for construction in Colorado and was 30 to 35 percent cheaper than traditional overpass designs. Unfortunately, flooding events drained resources for the project in 2013.

The designs remain an effective permanent solution to allow wildlife to cross the nation’s highways. The government just has to allocate funds and prioritize their construction.

Nina-Marie Lister, the Director of the Ecological Design Lab at Ryerson University, commented on the ARC designs:

“These things work, and they solve the problem once and for all. So, if you built a network of these bridges that connect in the right places, you’ve solved the problem for good,” said Lister.

A 2008 study commissioned by the U.S. Congress called the Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study found that collisions have increased markedly since 1990. (see video from Vox below)

Growing deer populations, as well as more vehicle traffic, makes for a dangerous, expensive, and sometimes deadly combination for humans. The annual total for collisions with large animals such as deer, elk, and moose reached approximately one million. In truth, the number is probably much higher since the total excluded accidents with less than 1,000 dollars in property damages.

While only 0.04 percent of these accidents resulted in death to humans, the accidents racked up over eight billion in damages every single year.

Watch the amazing video from Vox below:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube

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Matthew Silvan

Progressive liberal from the American south. Working to educate and inform on issues like preserving the environment, equality for minorities and women, and improving the quality of life for mankind and our ecosystem. Following the facts in the face of a movement to follow only the money.

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