A Push for Animal-Friendly Roads ; in Road Ecology, Transportation Engineers and Biologists Cooperate on Projects So Fewer Animals Are Struck by Cars

By Tim Vanderpool Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Push for Animal-Friendly Roads ; in Road Ecology, Transportation Engineers and Biologists Cooperate on Projects So Fewer Animals Are Struck by Cars


Tim Vanderpool Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A stream of traffic flows along Picture Rocks Road, past two roadside culverts where Natasha Kline is checking for animal tracks. The tunnels, intended to drain a sandy wash, are serving instead as life-saving byways for wildlife along this busy commuter route through Saguaro National Park.

As a park biologist, Ms. Kline knows such crossings can be crucial. A recent study counted as many as 53,000 animals killed on Saguaro's roads each year. "It's a huge problem," she says, "and our issue will be every park's issue in 10 years or so."

Efforts to solve the problem have spawned a new discipline called road ecology. The practice brings together transportation planners, scientists, and wildlife activists who plan new road projects to minimize impacts on animals. By using a variety of strategies - from lowered speed limits in wildlife areas to high-tech, vegetated overpasses where cameras monitor animal use - they hope to reduce the number of animals killed and improve road safety for drivers.

Increased roadkill in national parks and on America's roads is a serious issue. About 275,000 animal-related crashes occur each year in the US, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. An estimated 1 million animals are killed on America's roads each day.

Scientists and transportation planners are seeking to reverse the trend. For instance, the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University is a leader in road ecology. Tony Clevenger, who is a biologist there, recently helped design 24 vegetated wildlife crossings over 30 miles on the Transcanada Highway, which bisects Alaska's Banff National Park. Those structures helped to cut wildlife mortality by 95 percent since the mid-1980s. In the past, he says, state wildlife officials often were the last to know about pending transportation projects.

But today, government agencies "are implementing more wildlife fencing and crossing structures right into highway planning and design, instead of waiting to the last minute to include them."

Florida leads the way in reducing roadkill, thanks to its Efficient Transportation Decision Making process. …

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