I live in a valley between two mountain ranges, which are home to bear, elk, deer, mountain lions and bobcats among other animals, large and small. Last spring, about 10am on a Sunday morning, I was driving down the 60 mph highway that divides the valley, and a young bear came barreling down the bank on the west side of the road and ran in front of my car. It was near the yellow Elk Crossing sign, and it made me think this must be a natural runway between the river and the mountains.
Source: calgaryherald.com via Constantine on Pinterest
Luckily, I was far enough back from the bear that I didn’t have to slam on my brakes or have a collision with it. I slowed down and marveled, though, as it lumbered across the road and slipped beneath the guardrail on the other side. I’d never seen a live bear.
A natural crossing
A few weeks later, I was traveling in the opposite direction on the same road in the same spot. It was dinnertime, and the sun was low. Down the same bank a large, graceful elk bounded towards the highway. Cars were coming in the other direction, but they weren’t slowing down. My eyes were wide and my heart pounded as I prayed this elk would make it to the other side of the road, which it did in just a few steps.
A few weeks after that, I saw either an elk or a deer mama and her baby dead on the side of the road. I was so sad, but I also thought of the vehicle and the driver that hit them. That would have caused quite a bit of damage and injuries! A friend hit a cow on that stretch many years ago. Her car was totaled, and she was wearing a neck brace when I saw her.
About the same time I was having all these wildlife experiences, it was serendipity that I read a news article about wildlife crossings. It seemed to me we could use them here, especially since it is well known where animals cross the roads. An overpass where I saw the bear and the elk would be helpful to make sure they are not hit and that people and their vehicles are not hurt, either.
Integrating transportation with wildlife habitats
As roads divide this valley, so do they divide wildlife habitat. River, plain and forest each serve a purpose for food, shelter and mating grounds. The human need for fast transportation has disrupted the natural cycles of wild animals. Roads and railways have caused the extinction of local species in some areas.
Man-made crossings reconnect the pieces we have broken up and reduce extinction rates. Overpasses, tunnels and culverts conserve endangered species and allow them access to all they need to survive and thrive.
Wildlife bridges all over the world
France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany have implemented these for over 60 years. Canada and the US are catching on, and the UK, Spain and Australia are taking care of their wildlife now, too. In the Netherlands alone, there are 600 tunnels to direct wildlife away from highways. In Alberta, Canada, there are 24 over- and under-passes in Banff National Park, where the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway cuts through undeveloped country.
Webcams at these crossings show that a variety of animals using them. Hard numbers on animal deaths, human injury and vehicle damage that were avoided are difficult to predict, but the usage of these passages and bridges seems to say success. By connecting the various necessary habitats, the crossings have extended and created lives, too.
We need to remember – wildlife was here long before any of us. If we disrupt their habitat, it is up to us to fix.
For more pictures of wildlife bridges, click here.