Did you know that nearly $8 Billion in damages are incurred every year due to animals being struck by vehicles? This is a sobering statistic, not simply because of the monetary cost of these collisions to humans, but because of its saddening implications for the damages being done to individual animal lives as well as the ecosystems surrounding major highways as a while.
Canada has decided to do something about this widespread problem by creating 44 animal overpasses and similar structures around highways. An animal overpass is essentially a structure that goes completely over the dangerous highway and acts as a nature-imitating bridge to the other side. These overpasses are not mere concrete establishments, they are cultivated with vegetation that matches the immediate environment and native trees so that the spaces created are ones the animals are accustomed to inhabiting.
“This is really a remarkable effort,” said Patricia Garvey-Darda, a biologist with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “The goal is to connect all the species and all the habitat.” Jen Watkins, A Conservation Associate with Conservation Northwest goes on to describe the numerous ways highways disrupt the natural order of the environments in which they are placed. Without human interference, animals will roam larger areas in search of food or new dwellings to live in temporarily or even long term. Reasons for animals shifting to different areas can range from safety, to food, or other factors. When animals are faced with the unnatural and high energy structure of a superhighway, they are faced with decisions their biology doesn’t equip them for, leading to many tragic and unnecessary animal deaths and on a larger scale, damage and disruption to the communities as a whole.
This solution has been so powerfully effective in Canada with even a recent study finding solid evidence that the overhangs are working, that many US states are embarking on similar projects. Washington State is creating its first wildlife crossing project in the form of a 150-foot wide bridge that is filled with trees and vegetation.
Watkins goes on to explain that the overhands are a monumental step forward in conservation efforts related to highway wildlife challenges, but they aren’t the only strategy in place. Other projects and programs aimed at protecting wildlife and fostering natural development of ecosystems in highway areas include those aimed at creating safe passage areas underneath the highways as well. In these types of projects, areas are created that will foster and support the crossing back and forth of larger and predatory animals like wolves and bears while also providing safe havens for smaller creatures and aquatic ones.