Highways and Habitats: Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions Costs and Solutions



We’ve grown all too accustomed to the familiar scene: a dead animal on the side of the road, a sight that gets easier to ignore as days pass and the carcass no longer bears resemblance to a living creature. The sight is common, and the problem is one that receives little attention.

There is no recent estimate available, but in a 2008 report to Congress, the Federal Highway Administration estimated that in the U.S. alone, between one and two million collisions occur each year between cars and large animals. Each year, hundreds of Americans are killed in wildlife collisions and this number is only likely to rise: Collisions involving human fatalities increased by a staggering 67% from 1994 to 2006.

Biodiversity Toll of Vehicle-Wildlife Collisions

But while people more often than not come out of these interactions alive, animals are not as lucky. It is not easy to estimate how many animals die each year on U.S. roads as most collisions go unnoticed or unreported and most published studies concern large mammals only. The best estimate comes from the Humane Society, which has conducted several ambitious field studies across the country since the 1970s. Their estimate: one million vertebrates killed every day.

More so than any other nation, the landscape of modern America was shaped by cars. Every day, 200 million of them operate on millions of miles of road, paved and unpaved. And as we get into our cars, inattentively look out at our world from behind the windshield, and travel at speeds unnatural to any animal, it’s easy to feel disconnected to our environment — or even indifferent to it. It’s easy to think that because the roads we travel on were made by people and for people, we’re the only ones using them. The staggering number of animal deaths stated above tells us this isn’t the case.

In order to keep wildlife populations healthy, animals need room to roam as they engage in daily and seasonal activities like finding food, mates, shelter and rearing their young. Unfortunately, their spaces are broken up into smaller and smaller pieces by human infrastructure and development. This is known as habitat fragmentation and it’s one of the leading causes of habitat loss and subsequently the loss of species in the U.S. One key example of this impact is the Florida panther: Fewer than 250 individuals remain in the wild and as many as 20-30 are killed on roads each year.

6/14/2019 11:18:04 AM

Wonderful article. Everytime I see a deceased animal on the side of the road (I saw 5 raccoons yesterday alone) I ponder what could be done to ameliorate the issue surrounding vehicular-wildlife collisions. From everything I have read, constructing wildlife overpassings and/or underpassings could significantly help mitigate the problem, especially if placed in strategical, heavily-trafficked areas. Also, benshrader, last time I checked deer aren't the only animals crossing roads... You isolated a singular issue, and to be frank, even if the study you quoted is reputable that doesn't remotely come close to solving the overarching problem. Cougars wouldn't curb all large mammal populations to the effect that wildlife collisions would be so drastically reduced that this would become a non-issue. In fact, cougars themselves would become more likely to be hit by vehicals as their numbers burgeon! I'm sorry, but your argument is flawed on many fronts. Heck, I saw a snake splattered in the road not far from my residence. Would cougars help with that? No, they wouldn't and all animals matter. Even though the snake is no threat to the car and human driving it, we should strive for solutions that benefit all species. Even if America magestically reverted back to the ecosystems that existed pre-settlement (full cougar populations and all), we would still need ingenious construction to halt these prodigious vehicular-related wildlife accidents. The "cause" is mankind, not overlabundant deer or a dearth of cougars, wolves, etc, which are essentially all the byproduct of poor human choices. As such, we can solve or at least greatly mitigate this issue through sound research and targeted construction.

5/24/2019 8:59:01 AM

Yes it has been documented that wildlife corridor crossings are justifiable, but this is directed at the symptom and not the cause, too many deer. Here is a solution directed at the cause, a study by University of Idaho et al, shows that cougars reestablished in the eastern US would reduce deer vehicle crashes by 22%; https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/conl.12280

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