We have all seen dead or dying wildlife on the sides of the roads. These animals have misjudged how fast they could cross the road or the dangers of oncoming traffic. Maybe they were fleeing a predator. Seeing dead animals often leaves us feeling sad and frustrated.
Wildlife in urban areas are constantly moving around. They look for food, mates, and places to hide. Wildlife crossings help them to do that safely. Wildlife crossings are bridges or tunnels that help wildlife cross from one green space to another. They can be maneuvered so that they use the crossings instead of moving across the pavement.
Despite a reputation for being leaders in the environmental movement, California lags behind the rest of the country in developing safe ways for wildlife to navigate their territory.
Let’s take a deep dive into why we need wildlife crossings.
Why Do We Need Wildlife Crossings?
In our rush to get places quickly, humanity has built numerous roads, dividing up habitats and fracturing the food web for many species. In Los Angeles County alone we have 650 miles of highways and 22,000 miles of streets.
That’s a lot of pavements, especially when you consider that the county’s Department of Transportation estimates that 2,882,784 car trips happen each day.
What does that mean for wildlife? It means their habitat can be a scary place to live. Wildlife must make a decision everyday in order to find food. Should they cross the dangerous road, or should they be hungry?
This disproportionately affects larger predators, but even small mammals, such as squirrels, may need to travel two miles to find enough food, especially in the fall. During these times animals are eating more to store fat in their bodies to survive winter.
Mother animals may also range further from their dens because they need more foods to feed a growing family.
Mountain Lions in Los Angeles:
Did you know that we have mountain lions in Los Angeles? I am in awe of these magnificent creatures.
Mountain lions already have a declining population and need to travel significant distances to find food and lovers. Each year we lose these precious animals to road accidents.
Scientists in Southern California state that two wildlife crossings in targeted areas could save our unique population of these big cats. The LA Times reported that funding was needed to connect undeveloped land on either side of highway 101 in Agoura Hills. Additionally, funding is needed to connect the grassy slopes on either side of highway I-15 in Temecula.
Genetic diversity is important for any population to survive. Freeways cut off female and males from each other. Litters may not be able to disperse the way nature intended. This leads to inbreeding.
Inbreeding leads to smaller sizes, health conditions and at-risk populations. Wildlife crossings help animals travel to find an appropriate mate.
Safety For Animals and For People:
We all want safety for ourselves, our children, and for the animals we share our lives with. I cringe with sadness every time I see an opossum hit on the side of the road. I pull over (safely of course) and help turtles navigate across my suburban streets.
Pew Charitable Trusts states that approximately one to two million (Million!) wildlife vehicle collisions occur each year. That statistic is for large animals such as deer and bears. It doesn’t even consider the multitudes of opossums, raccoons and squirrels that are hit!
In addition, those collisions cause an estimated two hundred human deaths. The auto insurance industry says these collisions cause eight million dollars in damages to cars.
A national study done by State Farm Insurance found that residents of West Virginia had the highest rate, 1 in 37, chances of hitting a wild animal with their car. Montana and Pennsylvania were ranked next.
According to The Dowd Agencies, the average deer collision costs $1840 in repair costs and $2702 in medical costs. A Bloomberg report referred to California’s wildlife vehicle collisions as a “maelstrom of animal driver carnage”.
Wildlife and Vehicle collisions happen every day. But they don’t have to.
Looking for other ways to help animals? Listen to our podcast on saving foxes.
Where Should We Put Crossings?
Scientists actually use collision information to help them find dangerous areas where wildlife seeks to cross the road.
They may capture, tag, and release animals so that they can trace their movements. This gives them data on where and how often the animal seeks to get across a highway.
Do They Work?
Yes! We have significant examples of wildlife crossings that have saved thousands of animals each year. How do we know this? Wildlife crossings typically have motion sensored cameras so that scientists can collect data.
Federal studies are lacking though, and we need more funding from the Department of Transportation to not only build crossings but to pay scientists to perform studies.
Pew Charitable Trusts states that the federal government has limited how their departments within DOT can use funds.
By making funds available for wildlife crossings, government departments such as the Federal Lands Transportation Program, Block Grant Program, Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects Program, and Bridge Investment Program could support wildlife-related infrastructure.
Examples of California Wildlife Crossings:
The Liberty Canyon project is one step closer after Governor Newsom signed a bill giving funding for this project and several others. The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing just north of Los Angeles will be an overpass that will span the ten-lane highway below.
The Harbor Boulevard Wildlife Underpass built in 2006, in La Habra Heights, California, was the first such crossing in LA County. Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority ecologist Michelle Mariscal uses cameras and studies tracts to monitor the wildlife. She has found that the underpass saves ground squirrels, opossums, raccoons, jackrabbits, mule deer, coyotes and even that sneaky bobcat.
Not all wildlife corridors are built for mammals or larger animals. In Murrieta, CA, south of Los Angeles, an overpass with an underpass component was targeted for butterflies, birds and insects. Specifically the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly.
You may be asking why animals that fly need a corridor (good question by the way). Certain species such as the Quino checkerspot flutter low to the ground and subsequently end up splattered on someone’s windshield. Also, birds such as the greater roadrunner typically walk – or run across roads.
ONE SIMPLE IDEA:
At For Animals. For Earth., we are all about helping you find small but powerful ways you can help the planet. We care about wildlife and want them to be able to live their best life.
Today take 15 minutes to email or write to the California State Department of Transportation and your state representative to tell them how important this topic is and that you want to see funds continually be made available.
Don’t live in California? No problem, every location needs these! Here’s a quick way to contact your local senator or representative.
Watch our video on signing petitions to help animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUCAFjFqhnk
ABOUT AME VANORIO:
Ame Vanorio is an environmental educator and the director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center. She encourages everyone to write Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, and local congress people to advocate for wildlife crossings in their state.