Vehicular collisions with wildlife seem to have become somewhat normalized throughout the years. Indubitably, no driver wants the unfortunate accidents—if for no other reason than to save their vehicle from costly repairs, let alone the fact that collisions can be dangerous. However, I think quite often we assume the “cost of doing business” mindset in regards to the innumerable collisions with wildlife that occur every year throughout America.
I view the aforementioned mindset like this: In order to get from point A to point B (literally and metaphorically) in life, we need many thousands of miles of roads for easy and quick access to food, jobs, entertainment, friends, family, etc. While certainly not desired, essentially everyone knows and accepts that natural wildlife routes will be intersected by these roads built to accommodate humans. In turn, wildlife will be impeded from safely accessing the commodities they need to survive, and, inevitably, it will result in countless wildlife-related driving accidents.
So, what are we, and more importantly, the millions of affected terrestrial and aquatic wildlife to do? I mean we could revert back to the horse and buggy—any takers? No? Okay, well, what if we could identify areas along heavily trafficked highways and roads that are, or would be, prime passageways for a host of wildlife ranging from large and small mammals to amphibians and fish, and then construct natural wildlife crossings that go either over or under these roads? Bingo! Wildlife crossings like these are precisely what have been implemented above and below a six-lane section of I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass, Washington.
Through the work of the conservation organization Conservation Northwest and additional coalitions, including citizen science efforts, multiple wildlife crossings have been constructed up and down a 15-mile stretch of this highway, which intersects the Cascade Mountains from west to east. In fact, four undercrossings have been built already. Some of these structures essentially turn the highway itself into a sort of overland or raised bridge allowing wildlife such as elk, deer, and even trout and salmon to safely traverse north-south underneath it; other structures consist of wildlife size culverts and creek crossings.
While the undercrossings are magnificent, and at least 20 more are expected to be created, the overcrossings or wildlife “bridges” are unequivocally the ones that grab the headlines. Before going any further I strongly suggest clicking on the following link connecting wildlife habitat, which contains a brief video highlighting the work that has been and will be done on this highway. It is truly astonishing how far a little ingenuity can go in preserving both animal and human lives.
But now I digress—so as of fall 2018, the first overcrossing in Washington state was completed. Its name is the Keechelus Wildlife Overcrossing! This wildlife bridge spans across the six-lane highway and is approximately 150 feet long, 66 feet wide, and 35 feet tall. Additionally, the bridge contains native vegetation and has steep walls on either side so that the myriad wildlife it is intended to attract will feel as if they never left the woods, so to speak. Moreover, on either side, the entrance to the bridge gently slopes up and down widening at both the northern and southern base into a sort of natural funnel in order to encourage wildlife to use the overcrossing as opposed to the highway.
It is an impressive structure. However, it will take some time to comprehensively quantify and qualify its positive impacts. Regardless, hopefully it is just the first of many in Washington and beyond. In my opinion, I can’t envisage these crossings as being anything other than a boon to wildlife and humans. I think it will naturally reduce stress, fatalities, and open up new corridors for wildlife, while also making travel less hazardous and expensive for humans as collisions drastically decline as a result of it.
We live in an ever-changing world where humans are constantly encroaching on both terrestrial and aquatic habitat in many ways: roads and highways being just one example. Nonetheless, we should try and do as much as we can to coexist with all organisms in as unobtrusive a way as possible. While eliminating all vehicular travel isn’t plausible, what is plausible is continually conceiving new ideas to minimize vehicular impact on wildlife. This is well within our power, and it is exactly what is happening in Washington. Hopefully other states will emulate these crossings, so that collisions with wildlife become closer to an anomaly than the norm.
Have you seen other states or places in other countries where similar wildlife crossings have been constructed?
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