Look Both Ways! – How Learning About An Animal’s Behavior Can Help Them Cross Busy Roadways

Look Both Ways! – How Learning About An Animal’s Behavior Can Help Them Cross Busy Roadways

By: Michelle Bernecker

Canada's Banff National Park overpass

Canada’s Banff National Park overpass
Image courtesy of The Wikimedia Foundation

Have you ever been driving on the highway when you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, and then suddenly there is a deer staring straight at you in the middle of the road? Well, every year in the United States, an estimated 400 million animals are killed in automobile collisions.  Over 1 million each day [1]! This statistic is reflective of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.  Wildlife vehicular collisions are not only a threat to wildlife, but also humans.  The most serious of these collisions involve large ungulates, hoofed mammals like deer, elk, and moose.  Fortunately, conservationists studying road ecology have taken action and began to research migration habits of these animals to reduce the number of wildlife-involved accidents.  These studies include capturing and marking of wildlife with GPS collars, recording migration patterns, and pinpointing the most prevalent road crossings of these animals.

In Idaho, along US Highway 20 and Idaho Highway 87 ‘169 recorded collisions resulting in the fatalities of moose, white tail deer, mule deer, and millions of dollars in collision damage to vehicles occurred in a 4 year span’[2]. In efforts to decrease the amount of collisions, studies have begun along these highways to determine the routes of migratory elk and moose. Due to the ungulates migration patterns between their winter and spring ranges they are obligated to cross Highway 20, as no other route is available for them to take.

Between these two seasons, the highest number of elk and moose road crossings took place.  By monitoring these patterns, six high traffic road crossing areas were pinpointed along the highway. Based on these observations, scientists brainstormed ways for a safe resolution of crossing the roadway. Simple solutions such as fencing and signs warning cars of wildlife crossing to more complex ideas such as overpasses and underpasses which give animals their own safe pathway either over or under the busy road have been taken into consideration.

Ideas like over and underpasses have proven to be an effective solution for elk crossings in Canada’s Banff National Park (pictured above). “Canada began installing 8-foot-high fences on both sides of the expanded highway. They then constructed 22 underpasses and two 164-foot-wide overpasses for wildlife. According to the park service, these changes resulted in a 96 percent decrease in mortality for the parks ungulates” [3]. In the first year of implementing this idea the park saw as few as 2 reported crossings by only two different species on the overpass, but after an 8 year period, over 50,000 trouble free crossings have occurred! By studying the behavior of these animals it allows us to create solutions to everyday problems. Without the knowledge gained from studying this unique migratory pattern, there would be no way to determine how to implement an effective solution!

Although wildlife crossings are not yet widely utilized, they have proven to become a viable solution to a worldwide, and somewhat common, issue. Threats due to busy roadways, other than vehicular collision, can also interfere with foraging and mating behaviors, fragment habitats, and divide populations. As more information is obtained on these successful solutions projects like this can begin to take place!

Key Words: wildlife, behavior, ungulates, solutions, roadways, migration

[1] Culture Change- http://www.culturechange.org/issue8/roadkill.htm

[2] Project Successfully Maps Out Wildlife Pathways Across the “Longest Main Street in America”- Wildlife Conservation Society.

[3] National Geographic- http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/ 2004/05/0512_animaloverpasses_2.html

Interesting extras: 6 OF THE WORLD’S MOST INGENIOUS WILDLIFE OVERPASSES [PICS]- http://matadornetwork.com/change/6-of-the-worlds-most-ingenious-wildlife-overpasses-pics/

16 thoughts on “Look Both Ways! – How Learning About An Animal’s Behavior Can Help Them Cross Busy Roadways

  1. leorah

    I’ve seen more of these pop up in Colorado over the years – I wonder how the statistics for roadkill have changed locally and which areas have been most successful.
    I still think these under/overpasses are really cool ideas!!

  2. mplatt

    I think under/overpasses are a great idea and can be very useful in helping prevent collisions as well as connect habitats that otherwise were unavailable or fragmented. Finding ways to allow humans and animals to live together is one of the most important issues we are facing today. The only problem with this solution is the cost. I bet it costs a lot to build these under/overpasses so making sure the animals are using them and that they are decreasing mortality is very important.

  3. smorton

    It’s interesting how the first year only 2 species used the structure but over the years many more individuals began to utilize the crossing. As populations begin to take advantage of these types of crossings it will may concentrate ungulates in these areas. I wonder if native predators would begin to see these areas as high quality hunting patches. If this were to develop many of the species that were intended to use these as crossing may adopt anti-predator behaviors that defer them from using the over/under passes. It would be interesting to see a parallel study that examines the frequency of predators hunting at these locations.

  4. Cristiana Falvo

    I like the point you make about how studying the specific migratory behavior of these animals allowed us to implement an effective solution. I think the over/underpasses are a great solution to combat habitat fragmentation and disrupted migratory paths, it’s also a great example of how animal behavior plays a vital role in conservation.

  5. Lisa Angeloni

    It’s very interesting that the Banff overpass wasn’t initially as successful (in terms of use by wildlife) as it eventually became over time. Is there any information on what changed after that first year, e.g., growth of overpass vegetation, learning by local wildlife, or other changes?

  6. kburrus

    I think that these over and underpasses are a great idea. Whoever puts up these structures should invest more in them. I think with a little more research on there effectiveness there could be more money donated to build them, especially if the money came from people interested in recherché that goes into the animals crossing the passes. I would like to see one of these built in Colorado!

  7. ematth

    This topic is so interesting, and so important because not only does it have a role in protecting the wildlife, but many human lives are saved as well! Where I’m from in Alaska, we just recently installed these large fences along long stretches of busy highways to prevent moose from crossing. This has resulted in a huge decline of moose mortalities, as well as car accidents caused by moose crossings. Collisions caused by moose are too frequent along these highways, and are often fatal to both passengers and moose, so these fences have been a really great installation.

  8. reneev

    Great article! I think it goes really well together with the one I wrote about wildlife crossings too! I’m a huge fan of them and I would love to see more of them implemented in the U.S.!

  9. Lacey Humphreys

    Studying migration pattern is the most effective way to ensure that these ungulates are not in danger of being hit by cars. I used to live in Kentucky where there are long stretches of highway going directly through natural areas. No corridors were put in place and there was always A LOT of deer. People would tell me to look for the gleaming of the eyes in the ditches when driving on the highway, which I would have to say is not very effective. I think that over/underpasses should be implemented where ever there is construction of new roads.

  10. amajor

    I definitely believe that we would need more of the over- and under-passes for our wildlife in order to avoid collisions between cars and wildlife, but it will not be easy because these sorts of operations are expensive and take time to construct or add. What I meant by that is that the road the pass will be built on would probably need to be closed for some time and that the cars need to either go to a different road or if it is a two way highway, you might need to merge the roads at a time when constructing the under- or over-pass. It will be difficult, but I would say that it is something we should invest in to help our wildlife and help prevent wildlife-caused accidents. Good article.

  11. emtemple

    I really enjoyed reading your article it was very well written being both charismatic and informational. I too like Scott am interested to see if predators might take advantage of these locations as “easy pickings” for prey. If this might keep animals from crossing these paths a future study on this sounds very interesting.

  12. Amy D'Arcey

    I think a really important aspect of the decisions to build these structures has got to be the species that we want to use them. No use building a dark, scary underpass if you’re trying to save the moose and likewise a toad probably won’t go for an overpass. I found a website that lists the types of over and underpasses that work for different types of animals if anyone wants to look; http://www.wildlifeandroads.org/decisionguide/2_1_6.cfm

    This is relevant too to some things we learned in lecture about using good habitat cues to attract animals, we could be using these (or maybe people already do) to get the animals to and over the overpass and away from the road. Maybe a fence would have more impact if it was painted white for example.

  13. sberg

    The idea of a road for the animals is a good idea because usually their only way to cross a road is the road. I think this is helping the animals to be able to cross huge highways to get to the other side. There will most likely be less accidents too. I love this idea!

  14. ssteele1

    I really liked your statistics on road kill, it’s really quite amazing the amount of animals killed and the amount of different species being affected. I think wildlife corridors have great potential, but should be developed further so that they are not so species-specific. Implementing a corridor for a variety of species would save lots of money and be advantageous to a lot more species.

  15. Savimay

    Corridors are a great way to prevent car accidents and facilitate more natural wildlife movements. I’m sure it would help to boost local populations as well since more resources would be available to the wildlife. Great blog Michelle!

  16. amccoy15

    I think the over passes are a good idea but I wonder if it still has some impact on whether the animals on either side of the highway are affected by not being able to get to the other side.

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