NationalStacy M. Brown

Bridges of Survival: Protecting Wildlife and Preventing Accidents

The natural corridors of the C&O Canal, Rock Creek and Anacostia Park are havens for wild animals who, usually at dusk, tend to bound toward the busy roadways, which too often result in collisions with motorists.

It presents a hazard that not only concerns District officials but authorities in just about every city in the United States.

“I have seen for myself how dangerous it can be for both animals and humans to be around roads and highways without wildlife crossings,” revealed Jennifer Schultz, an outdoor guide and instructor Outforia.

As Catrin Einhorn of the New York Times noted in a recent report, there are few things Americans can agree on these days. Wildlife crossings, it seems, are one of them.

Einhorn reported that engineers in the Pinedale region of Wyoming built overpasses for vehicles, not wildlife.

“But every spring and fall, collisions with mule deer and pronghorn spiked where Route 191 disrupted the animals’ age-old migration paths,” the journalist asserted.

“So the state Department of Transportation joined with the state wildlife agency and nonprofit groups to create a series of crossings, including the one pictured above. Collisions have dropped by roughly 90 percent.”

Collisions reportedly have dropped in other places where workers have constructed wildlife crossings.

The most recent data from State Farm revealed that U.S. drivers, on average, have a 1 in 116 chance of a collision with an animal.

The company estimates over 1.9 million animal collision insurance claims in the U.S. between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020.

“I live for walking, running, and trekking,” Schultz stated. “I like wildlife crossings [because] they protect wildlife, especially endangered species. If you’re driving along these highways and happen to hit one of these scared animals, you’ll probably just see them as roadkill. But when you have seen up close, it’s a lot sadder.”

In D.C., park officials cite the C&O Canal, Rock Creek Park, and Anacostia Park as wildlife “highways.” 

In 2018, Bloomberg reported that Maryland’s $2 billion Intercounty Connector included a plan to build ten animal underpasses from the start. “And even before construction finished, animals were ducking underneath,” the website noted.

“The deer, the raccoons and opossums, they’ve been going through these culverts long before they had to,” Robert E. Shreeve, who worked on the project with the Maryland Department of Environment at the time, told the Baltimore Sun.

“Suburban animals are not shy,” Shreeve noted.

The Virginia General Assembly in February passed legislation to protect wildlife corridors and help keep drivers safer.

SB 1274 directs state agencies to incorporate wildlife corridors and road crossings into their planning across Virginia.

In 2020, the state enacted legislation to produce a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan (WCAP) to identify essential wildlife corridors and road crossings.

The measure directed the departments of Conservation and Recreation, Transportation, and the State Forester to integrate the recommendations of the WCAP into their own planning documents.

Reportedly more than 60,000 deer-related crashes occur within the state each year, costing approximately $533 million in damages annually.

According to one report, Virginia ranks 12th in the United States for deer-related car crashes, experiencing 10,000 serious human injuries and 200 fatalities due to wildlife-vehicle collisions every year.

“Protecting wildlife corridors and improving habitat connectivity by planning for wildlife crossings has led to a 98 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions at a study site in Virginia,” the report stated.

Since these types of accidents are a national problem, the federal government’s responsibility is to decrease the risk by improving infrastructure or at least subsidizing state-funded infrastructure projects, stated attorney Matthew Dolman.

“Safe wildlife crossings are a great idea, and they should not be a partisan battle; everyone who runs into a deer is likely to get hurt or incur major property damage,” Dolman remarked.

“If Congress cannot agree on how to include legislation about wildlife safety and infrastructure, I think that the department of transportation should potentially team up with the Environmental Protection Agency to implement a sustainable long-term solution to this problem.”

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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