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Highways Redefined: Road Ecology and Wildlife Crossings Paving the Way to Sustainable Coexistence

The Trans-Canada Highway wildlife crossings in Banff National Park
The Trans-Canada Highway wildlife crossings in Banff National Park - Photography: Joel Sartore

In a rapidly changing world where the need for transportation and infrastructure expansion is ever-growing, we often find ourselves at a crossroads. On one hand, we must facilitate human mobility and economic development, while on the other, we are increasingly aware of the impact of these developments on our environment and its inhabitants. Two interconnected concepts, road ecology and wildlife crossings, are emerging as beacons of hope in our quest for sustainable coexistence.

The Hidden Toll on Wildlife

Our roads, the arteries of modern civilization, stretch across landscapes, connecting communities and commerce. However, there's a hidden toll that these roads exact, a toll that affects both human lives and wildlife. In the United States, nearly a million animals are killed on roads each day. These statistics, though staggering, may underestimate the true scale of the problem. This sobering reality prompted the emergence of road ecology, a field of study dedicated to designing roads with wildlife in mind.

Road Ecology: A Path to Balance

crab bridge on Christmas Island, Australia
Crab bridge on Christmas Island, Australia - Source: Faulkner Photography

Road ecology is a burgeoning field that seeks to reconcile the development of roads with the needs of wildlife. The idea is simple but profound: design roads that don't kill animals. This may seem like a lofty goal, but it's one that holds immense promise. As we project the construction of 25 million more miles of roads by 2050, the need for integrating wildlife needs into road design becomes paramount. It's not just about saving animal lives; it's about safeguarding ecosystems, addressing climate change, and promoting social justice and

biodiversity conservation.

The Promise of Wildlife Crossings

Amidst this urgent call for harmony between human development and the natural world,

Specialised wildlife underpass (elephants), Kenya
Specialised wildlife underpass, Kenya - Source: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy/YouTube

wildlife crossings offer a remarkable solution. These structures, including overpasses and underpasses, have significantly reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions worldwide. They provide safe passages for animals, ensuring they can traverse highways without peril. From the Florida Everglades to the Australian outback, these crossings have proven their worth, reducing collisions by as much as 95 %.

Global Adoption and Success Stories

This adorable rope bridge over Victoria's Hume Freeway, Australia, is a global example of wildlife bridges. Originally designed for squirrel gliders, it's now frequented by cockatoos.
Rope bridge over Victoria's Hume Freeway, Australia. Originally designed for squirrel gliders, it's now frequented by cockatoos. - Source: mywonderplanet

Wildlife crossings have gained international recognition, with countries like Canada, France, Brazil, and Bhutan incorporating them into their road infrastructure. Banff, Canada, stands out as a testament to their effectiveness. In just a two-mile stretch, wildlife-vehicle crashes were reduced by 90 percent, saving both lives and resources. By considering animals' preferences and conducting long-term monitoring, these crossings create not just safe passages but thriving ecosystems.

A Comprehensive Approach to Roadways

However, it's essential to understand that wildlife crossings, while vital, are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Roads bring with them a host of issues beyond animal fatalities, including noise pollution, toxic particles, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation. These challenges intersect with planetary boundaries, reminding us of the need for comprehensive approaches to road design and maintenance.

As we envision the roads of the future, it's clear that a harmonious coexistence between human progress and wildlife conservation is possible. Road ecology reminds us that by designing roads with wildlife in mind, we can reduce the deadly toll on animals while also showing empathy and compassion for all beings that share our planet. Wildlife crossings, in turn, not only save lives but also contribute to the preservation of our planet's biodiversity, ensuring that future generations can enjoy the rich tapestry of wildlife that still exists in our world today.

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