Inside: Ecologists must find ways to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. There are tools both simple and cost effective as well as more complex and expensive ones where appropriate. Incorporating these tools into municipal road development are essential for the sake of biodiversity as well as for the safety of road travellers.
Ecologists must look at ways to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. Municipalities are always adding roads. Habitat becomes more fragmented and biodiversity declines. Although regions may want to add measures to reduce the impacts of vehicles and roads on wildlife, resources are usually limited. However, the development of tools to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife are essential.
How do Roads Affect Wildlife?
Cars and the transportation sector in general are bad news for wildlife. Animals are killed or harmed in other ways. The human cost is also huge.
Vehicle impacts result in often big insurance claims. People are killed in many vehicle impacts with wildlife. Road infrastructure is also often damaged when vehicles hit especially large wildlife. It is often these costs that push regions to find solutions.Ecologists must look at ways to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. Click To Tweet
But roads affect wildlife in other ways as well that have a lesser direct impact on humans. And these impacts are harder for municipalities to find justification to invest in solutions. Roads fragment habitat into smaller pieces. More animals get killed if they dare to cross roads. Many will not cross and their breeding populations are made smaller reducing biodiversity. Roads create edge habitat that differs remarkably in characteristics from the original habitat. These edge habitats have different microclimates and change predator-prey relationships again reducing biodiversity.
All wildlife species are part of a web of life. They support each other and will impact our well-being as we too are part of this web of life. Money talks, however, when it comes to the political machinery that gets things done. If road ecologists are to encourage the implementation of measures to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife then cost must be taken into consideration.
How can we Help Wildlife Move Safely around Roads and Highways
Road ecologists have many tools that can be used to help wildlife move safely around and over roads. Some of them are pretty easy fixes that are not expensive. Some animal movements near or over roads are predictable. In these cases, fixes can be very cost effective.
- roads can be closed during breeding season and traffic detoured; this has been used successfully in reducing deaths in the Jefferson’s salamander in Ontario; according to the York Region website, “Travellers can expect intermittent closures of Stouffville Road, between Bayview Avenue and Leslie Street…”; this closure occurs from mid-October to the end of October during rain events when these salamander are returning to their winter habitat
- reducing speed limits during predictable animal travel times is also a cost-effective strategy
- creating alternative nesting sites for turtles and artificial hibernation sites for snakes is more labor intensive but also a cost-effective means of keeping turtles and snakes off of the roads
Other Ways to Reduce the Impact of Roads on Wildlife
There are some more costly but not outrageously expensive means of keeping more wildlife off of roads. Some of them are pretty interesting. Many of them work with larger mammals that are likely to increase human fatalities, infrastructure damage and insurance claims. Even though some will come with a heavy price tag, the cost is often offset by savings politicians can get behind.
- Norway has reduced collisions with deer by 90% using ‘disco poles’; these poles blare out sounds and light up when cars travel by them; the noise and lights scare off deer thinking about crossing that section of road
- overpasses and underpasses allow animals to pass over or under roads; this reduces the impact of roads on wildlife and on the humans driving on these roads; Highway 69 north of Parry Sound is a complex wildlife mitigation system that uses various tools to reroute wildlife away from roads including a 30 m wide overpass
- highway 69 also includes 10 km of large animal fencing, 27 one-way gates and two guards designed to moderate the movement of mostly deer and moose; 4 wildlife underpasses and 2 river wildlife bridges are also part of the tools used
- fencing used along roads can stop animals like turtles from crossing the road altogether or these fences can guide animals to a safe crossing point
How Can We Reduce the Impact of Roads on Wildlife?
- Be especially careful on 2-lane roads surrounded by forest or fields or where a stream crosses under as these are where a lot of wildlife collisions happen. Slow down.
- Don’t throw food waste out your window while driving; the food will attract wildlife to the roads.
- Follow the speed limits. Excessive speed makes it harder to avoid hitting animals that appear on the road.
- Lower your dashboard lights if you can. You will better be able to see your headlights reflecting off of the eyes of wildlife and avoid a collision.
- Use your high beams when you can to have a larger view of the road in front of you.
- Scan the road ahead of you awhile driving. You’re more likely to see any hazards that crop up including wildlife on the road.
More and more municipalities are using tools in their planning processes to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. Many tools like road signs, temporary road closures and unique solutions like Norway’s disco poles are relatively inexpensive. Others, like crossing structures, fencing and underpasses are costly but they are very effective. They have a big impact on reclaiming lost biodiversity. For politicians who need to see a financial bottom line, these mitigation strategies save millions of dollars yearly. Vehicle damage, human injuries and lost hunting revenues are positively impacted by making roads safer for wildlife.