Animal associations

Funding for infrastructure bill for wildlife crossings will save millions of animal lives

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When a young male gray wolf known as OR-93 traveled more than 1,000 miles from Oregon to California last year, he became the first wolf spotted on California’s central coast since over 200 years. But the celebration among scientists was cut short: After months of excitement, OR-93 was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 5, directly across from a 270,000-acre nature preserve.

OR-93’s story is particularly devastating, but not unique. America’s highways are an ecological disaster – an impenetrable wall and a veritable death trap for thousands of large animals every day.

Something that has proven itself: wildlife crossings – bridges, underpasses and tunnels built specifically for animals to cross main roads. There are currently about 1,000 wildlife crossings in the United States, but the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill allocated $350 million over five years to fund more crossings in all 50 states. It’s the biggest investment Congress has ever made in such projects, and environmentalists and transportation scholars are relieved, because…

It’s pretty hard there:

  • Each year, there are approximately 1 to 2 million collisions between cars and large animals in the United States.
  • 13 bears were struck and killed along just 108 miles of California’s Highway 395 in 2021, the highest spike in deaths since records began in 2002.
  • Roadkill is a major threat to the survival of 21 federally endangered species, according to a Department of Transportation report.
  • Animal-vehicle collisions cost Americans about $10 billion each year.

As well as being directly lethal to wildlife, major highways can also segment animal populations, leading to issues such as food scarcity and reduced fertility through inbreeding. Dark stuff, but not without a solution.

green bridges

Wildlife crossings, sometimes called “green bridges,” provide safe passage over or across major roads and allow animals to migrate, hunt, and diversify their gene pools in previously inaccessible landscapes. Built to look like part of the natural area, wildlife crossings can help reconnect animal populations and reduce traffic accidents.

  • A Wyoming crossing built for migrating pronghorns resulted in a 70% reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions.
  • Wildlife crossings in Arizona are associated with a 90% drop in collisions in a stretch used by migrating elk.
  • They aren’t just for big-horned animals either. Passages in Florida are used by alligators and otters, a new overpass in California will help isolated cougars, and turtle tunnels have linked separate populations.

The new crossings funded by the bill will protect animals and drivers, but even those wary of government spending might be inclined to celebrate. Why? Because, as a 2021 Forest Service study found, “it actually costs society less to fix the problem of wildlife-vehicle collisions than it costs to do nothing.”MK