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Road Trip

AdaptationNatureNature - Adapt - 10Species

Roads take us to new places and we have many wonderful adventures, even when a tire blows or the vehicle breaks down.  But. These adventures come at a cost, for both humans and wildlife.  We share the road with a variety of wildlife such as turtles, raccoons and deer. Wildlife collisions, especially involving larger animals, damage our vehicles, can injure and/or kill people and are usually fatal for the wildlife involved. As our population grows, and development pressure increases on the natural environment, an increase in wildlife-vehicle interactions is predicted.

Impacts of roads on wildlife can include but are not limited to death, critical injury, habitat loss and fragmentation, population decline, noise effects, road avoidance behaviour, and barriers to movement. Roads do not affect all species in the same way and it may take a long time, even generations, for impacts to be noticeable.  Depending on the species involved and their biology, mortality can have major impacts on local populations. Especially vulnerable species are turtles, snakes, salamanders and frogs.

Wildlife have no other choice but to make use of our roads. Urban sprawl, spreading industry, and networks of pavement and concrete jungles, have fragmented the landscape and changed their homes.  So wildlife adapts, and they have adapted to use roads for many purposes. Snapping turtles use gravel road shoulders to nest, snakes use warm asphalt to sun themselves, owls and hawks use the edges of the road to hunt, and moose lick salt accumulations at the edges of the road.  But these adaptations are often detrimental to wildlife.

Since development significantly influences migrations of local wildlife, wildlife resort to crossing roads, and can occasionally become an unwitting cause of human mortality: for example, when collisions occur with larger animals like deer, or when drivers lose control reacting to an animal on the road.

Historically, little thought was given to environmental or wildlife impacts when designing and building roads.  However, as both human populations and the knowledge of our actions increase, so do opportunities for better road design. Many scientists now study the impacts that roads and vehicles have on wildlife and their habitat, which in turn informs and helps to direct wildlife conservation efforts.  This science is termed “Road Ecology” and it is continually evolving with new information becoming available on a regular basis, leading to low-cost, but highly effective solutions to mitigate impacts to and from wildlife (such as seasonal road closures, signage, wildlife culverts, exclusion fencing). There are many published studies on the effectiveness of well-designed wildlife crossings which show that the majority of wildlife studied, do respond positively to mitigation measures once they are in place.

Only with a clear understanding of the impacts roads have on wildlife and the importance of mitigating these effects, can professionals design and create sustainable roads, which consider landscape connectivity and wildlife movement.  Cooperation between agencies (e.g., Local and Regional municipalities, Conservation Authorities, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, etc.) is critical to incorporate road design elements that are more wildlife friendly in priority areas. The implementation of wildlife crossings and mitigation measures in our watershed protect the natural heritage system, reconnect fragmented landscapes, and enhance wildlife diversity, so that humans and wildlife may share the road for years to come.

Photo by Erica Newton

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Last modified: July 6, 2018

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