Animals are using these wildlife overpasses, and it’s saving lives

Credit: highwaywilding.org

Each year, about 200 people are killed, and 29,000 people are hurt in wildlife-vehicle collisions. As for the animals, it’s total carnage; they rarely survive an accident with a vehicle.

But what if animals had human-made bridges that crossed over busy roads? Would the animals learn to use them?

The answer is clearly yes. Not only are animals intelligent enough to use them, but the video has also shown that animals like deer and bear are teaching their young how to navigate the overpasses.

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Mule deer cross a bridge in Elko County Nevada. Credit: NDOW

Banff National Park was one of the first in the world to try the wildlife crossings. The Canadian park started the project in 1996, and they now have 44 crossings — 38 underpasses and six overpasses.

Banff officials report that as of 2012, eleven species of large mammals have been recorded using wildlife crossings. Including grizzly and black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and more recently wolverine and lynx.  The park says they crossings were used 150,000 times between 1996 and 2012.

Where else are these crossings?

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Plant a Seed

The Canadians are not the only ones to experiment with the crossings.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Nevada Department of Transportation recently teamed up to build an overpass along Highway 93 in Elko County.

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A wildlife overpass under construction in Banff National Park. Credit: Banff National Park

The Nevada crossing structures included three underpasses and two overpasses. The underpass is a giant culvert with fencing modifications to funnel the deer. The bridge, filled in with dirt and vegetation is wide enough where the animal cannot see underneath to eliminate fear when crossing the busy highway.

It’s been in place in Nevada since 2010.

Montana has built crossings as well. The video below shows wildlife using an underpass at US Highway 93 on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Motion cameras recorded more than 53,000 movements from 30 different species between 2010 and 2012.

Colorado just completed a crossing in 2015 and is still collecting data.

Do the crossings work?

Research by ARC Solutions, a coalition of conservationists, ecologists, engineers and planners that advocates for crossing construction say wildlife vehicle collisions cost $8 billion annually in damages and cleanup costs.

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A grizzly bear is emerging from an underpass after crossing the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. Credit highwaywilding.org

Nova Simpson, researched the effectiveness of the Nevada Highway 93 crossings when she was a graduate student at the University of Nevada Reno.

Simpson’s research showed that during the first four years (Fall 2010-Spring 2014), 35,369 mule deer crossings were kept off the road, avoiding potential collisions with vehicles

In a recent five year span, there were nearly 2,500 reported wildlife-vehicle collisions across Nevada, including about 1,300 deer.

The installation of crossing structures has shown to decrease the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions up to 80 percent, says Simpson.

Calls for wildlife crossings in more states like Florida appears to be gaining momentum.

Less than a month ago, Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called on the Trump administration to keep the Florida panther on the endangered species list and to fund crossings for the Panthers in the Sunshine State.

“Unfortunately, many of the original threats to the panther’s survival continue to pose a threat today,” Nelson told Sunshine State News. “In the last decade, at least 140 Panthers were killed by cars. That’s about the same number of Panthers as the size of the entire adult population today. Clearly, there is a need for additional resources to protect the panther from vehicle collisions. Wildlife crossings and roadway fencing are a tried and true way to do this while also preventing habitat fragmentation.”

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has a decade and a half of experience working in a fast-paced newsroom. He’s worked as a journalist, weather chief, and news director.

He was on air during major weather and news events, including Hurricane Katrina, and the EF-4 tornados that struck the city of Hattiesburg in 2013.

Ortego is a two-time 1st place recipient in Investigative Journalism from The Mississippi Associated Press and a five-time recipient of Best Weather Broadcast.