Birding Today: Manmade creations benefit wildlife | News


Having been raised in a rural community, I easily recall plenty of roadkill. Measures had been taken as early as the 1837, when Canadian Richard McFarlan designed a fishway to bypass his own mill’s dam. This valuable idea was the birth for our modern, and some very beautiful, wildlife bridges that have been designed and built.

Deer and elk have created life-threatening hazards on two-lane roads as well as multi-laned highways, to well over 300 people annually. There are greater than a million auto accidents each year with over $10 million in vehicle repairs and medical costs.

These accidents also threaten nearly 25 endangered species. Fewer accidents like these will translate into fewer insurance claims, which will free more funds for the building of more wildlife bridges across major roads.

If your cost estimates consider the well-being of wildlife ecosystems, this problem becomes greater and the dollar figures increase. There are over a million animals killed daily, which is the top death sentence for many vertebrates. Animal populations are subdivided and habitats are fragmented.

Many crossings have been around for years, which include tunnels, culverts, bridges, and overpasses, but safer measures for all concerned include green bridges that are covered in native vegetation. This idea first took hold in France in the 1950s, expounded in the Netherlands where there are nearly seven hundred mammal crossings, including the world’s longest overpass that reaches a half mile.

It took until 2021 for the concept to strongly take root in the US, but it is working for such animals as the endangered Florida Panther.

In 1995, Davis, California, built a six-inch tunnel (ecoduct) to allow frogs to pass under a road to a wetland on the other side called Toad Hollow, which the toads ignored. However, we did better with 20 other crossings that brought a large drop in animal-related accidents in central Arizona for elk populations.

In 2018, Washington State’s Interstate 90, a six-lane highway, brought at least two bridges and multiple underpasses between the northern and southern Cascades. Before it was even completed, deer were using it at Snoqualmie Pass.

The best way for overpasses is to now incorporate them into new construction, which are proving to be cost effective long-term.

Japan owns the concept of Turtle Tunnels under their train tracks, while Victoria, Australia, constructed a small rope bridge, originally designed for squirrel gliders, but that was taken over by cockatoos.

Banff National Park in Canada has grizzly underpasses so they can take their time crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, while Amherst, Massachusetts, has a small animal crossing for salamanders to safely cross, which they use regularly.

Eastern Washington has a Salmon Cannon on the Colombia River to help return the species to the Upper Colombia River.

Utah combats Slaughter Row, which is over a six-lane intersection that is now much less dangerous for the local wildlife.

Perhaps President Biden’s new infrastructure bill will include a few of these for other wildlife in need.

Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.

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