Every animal on the planet has as much right to be here as humans, and restraining them is one of the greatest disservices we do to them. Every year, billions of animals and other creatures are killed on highways that cut through forests and other areas frequented by them. And one way of saving them is through wildlife bridges.
Crossings across highways that are dedicated to wildlife can help the animals migrate from one place to another. It is a requisite for survival for most species as they move over large stretches for foraging or in search of prey. These wildlife bridges will benefit long-ranging mammals that can not survive in tiny, isolated pockets.
A Life-Saver For Small And Big Animals Alike
Ecological corridors such as wildlife bridges built around the world will help avert some of the deaths that happen on the roads every year. they can counteract the unplanned consequences of human infrastructure that are intruding more and more into the animals’ territory.
Large mammals like bears and moose are not attuned to fast traffic on highways. Even small mammals end up being run over by speeding vehicles. Around a hundred animals including moose, deer, and elks were killed on one highway stretch alone in Utah in two years.
21 animal species in the US alone have their survival endangered by speeding vehicles. This includes the bighorn sheep of California, key deer of Florida, and the Alabaman red-bellied turtles. Around 200 people alone are killed in over a million road accidents in the US according to figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Road accidents are also expensive and can cost close to $50,000 due to collisions with big animals like the moose, with the cost of human death and injury, vehicle repairs, towing, investigation, and disposal of animal carcass among the expenses.
And road accidents are growing each year as more roads intrude into the animal territory. Animal-vehicle impacts have gone up by 50% in the last 15 years. Between one and two million animals are killed every year in road accidents according to Rob Ament, manager at Western Transportation Institute’s program on road ecology.
Wildlife Bridges Could Be An Effective Solution To Save Animals Crossing Highways
A solution that has been effective all over the world, and has considerably brought down the number of collisions between speeding vehicles and animals on roads is the construction of animal passes. The building of wildlife bridges, booth overpasses, and underpasses, and guiding fences have reduced the death of native species by 85% to 95%.
Researchers studied native species in Florida, wallabies, and bandicoots in Australia, and the Mexican jaguars and found that such measures save both animal and human lives, and also money.
The first wildlife bridges were built in Europe in the 1950s in France. They have crossed the Atlantic Ocean and are also being built in the US and Canada.
These wildlife bridges resemble a normal overpass or underpass. But instead of steel and concrete, these passes are bedecked with native flora and are not easily noticeable unless one knows what they are looking for.
Wildlife bridges passing under roads are particularly helpful to small and shy animals that are not visible to motorists. But they are a lifesaver to countless animals from pumas and fold monkeys in the forests of Brazil, to the water voles in England.
WTI’s Ament is working in remote regions of the world like Bhutan where he plans to build such wildlife bridges even as new highways get built in these regions. Here the Asian elephants need a safe passage to cross over. IN India, dozens of elephants are killed each year also on railway tracks, either run over or electrocuted.
Ament says that it was cheaper and easier to build wildlife bridges even as the highways are being built. Retrofitting, or constructing wildlife bridges later, is way more expensive. This is exactly what is being done in Canada and the US.
One of the newest wildlife bridges is the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State. The construction of the wildlife bridge on Interstate 90 from Seattle to Boston, started in 2015. The bridge is in the Cascades, east of Snoqualmie Pass.
This wildlife bridge is the sixth underpass on the highway since 2013. 20 of them will be built on the highway covering 15 miles on Interstate 90. These wildlife bridges will help black bears, elk, mountain lions, trout, and pika to traverse this once impenetrable stretch of highway.
Highways Aren’t Natural: Wildlife Bridges Keep The Impact Minimum
The benefits of these wildlife bridges are not limited to individual species. The highways threaten the very survival of many species of animals, as they move down south crossing the highway cutting horizontally across Washington State.
The animals living south were in a way trapped between the highway to their north, and the Columbia River in the south. This increased the possibility of inbreeding and threatened the very existence of species.
Such inbreeding in old-growth forest areas destroys the genetic variability of a species and leads to localized extinction, especially among slow-moving species.
The Snoqualmie overpass will help such species interconnect to the areas north of the highway. The underpasses that connect to the Yakima River through streams and wetlands are critical in connecting the aquatic species, according to Hen Watkins of Conservation Northwest. This non-profit is dedicated to conserving native wildlife and wildlands.
Species such as bull trout have immediately taken to the underpasses. Watkins says that trout, along with reptiles and the salamander, will benefit from the underpass.
WTI researcher Tony Clevenger has been observing wildlife species using these passes for more than 17 years. He says that while grizzly bears, deer, elk prefer open wildlife bridges, black bears, and cougars prefer the anonymity of underpasses. Such preferences highlight the areas where they have been reared.