As a biologist and animal lover the idea of wildlife crossings has always interested me. However, I haven't seen one in person to my knowledge and really haven't thought about it in a long time honesty. Then a few weeks ago I came across an article online talking about multiple states passing legislation this year that sets aside money for these projects and requires the collaboration of many different organizations and stakeholders.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed in 2021 includes a grant program called the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program. This program provides $350 million in grants over a 5-year period for the construction of bridges and underpasses that allow for the reconnection of aquatic and terrestrial habitat. The law also opens projects up to additional funding under other federal transportation programs. This will allow various species of wildlife to migrate back and forth across a road or highway between habitats without the danger of collision with vehicles. The bridges and underpasses also create areas of new habitat themselves as they are vegetated greenspaces or culverts that join streams, creeks, or wetland areas.
As a stormwater specialist it got me thinking. Wildlife bridges also increase greenspace over black impervious surfaces (e.g. highways and roads) which contribute to the heat island effect. They would decrease velocity of stormwater runoff and would increase plant uptake and transpiration. They would also increase infiltration to some degree, but they are a solid impervious surface at their base. Could it be possible to design wildlife bridges as a stormwater management practice, like a greenroof for example? As a stormwater inspector for many of our county roadway projects it makes me think about where we could implement these in Cuyahoga County, with or without a stormwater practice.
Some may think wildlife crossings are a waste of time and resources, but to me wildlife crossings are a no brainer. You reconnect habitats, thus increasing genetic diversity within a species, and increase greenspace. You save the lives of countless species of wildlife (including humans), as well as less damage to vehicles and any infrastructure involved in wildlife-vehicle collisions. Each year wildlife-vehicle collisions kill millions of animals and hundreds of people and injure more than 26,000 people in addition to causing nearly $10 billion of damage. Wildlife crossings reduce these collisions by up to 97%. They could also be used to create pollinator pathways, including monarch way stations. Not to mention, they're aesthetically pleasing as well. Some of these things you can put a monetary value on, but lives, genetic diversity, and a healthier environment, those are priceless.
No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, everything we do has an impact on something else, large or small.
Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Stormwater Specialist II
Resources and Videos:
Center for Large Landscape Conservation: A Slew of States Pass Legislation This Year to Build Wildlife Crossings
CNN: Call to Earth: Wildlife crossings are a life line for Canada's Grizzly Bears
New York Times: How Do Animals Safely Cross a Highway? Take a Look (includes videos)
The Time-Independent: 6 wildlife highway crossings, fences installed in Utah to help prevent roadkill
Treehugger: Wildlife Crossings Safe Lives and Money
USEPA: Learn About Heat Islands
The Wildlife Society: Watch: Wildlife crossings see a surge of interest (includes video)