Experts: Wildlife Crossings Can Help Adapt to Changing Climate

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
An elevated segment of road in the Sierra National Forest provides an underpass for toads to cross from one part of the habitat to the other unharmed. Photo Credit: Stephanie Barnes / U.S. Forest Service

Wildlife crossings save lives, both human and animal, by allowing migrating species to avoid oncoming traffic and move over or under roads and freeways instead.

Now a coalition of scientists, nonprofits and government agencies are highlighting their potential to help us adapt to climate change. The partnership has just published an open letter, calling on policymakers to prioritize climate resilience as roads and bridges are built or repaired using the funds from the 2021 infrastructure bill.

Renee Callahan, executive director of ARC Solutions, cowrote the letter.

“Why don’t we take advantage of this once-in-a-generation window of opportunity to not only rebuild one of the world’s greatest transportation networks?” Callahan asked. “And why don’t we build it even better, so that it works for people, wildlife, and also in the face of our changing climate?”

Callahan said transportation projects should be engineered to add extra decks over bridges and to widen culverts under roads to benefit wildlife. The open letter called for greater cooperation between tribes and local agencies.

Matt Skroch, project director of U.S. public lands and rivers conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, said wider culverts would improve biodiversity by allowing animals large and small to migrate, from elk to toads. And the culverts would improve resiliency during extreme weather events.

“We can design those structures to not only facilitate the passage of water as flooding continues to occur in the future, but we can also think about how these culverts and bridges can accommodate terrestrial wildlife movement as well,” Skroch explained.

Supporters broke ground last year on a state-of-the-art wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, primarily to facilitate the movement of cougars. Data show properly sited and built wildlife crossings can reduce mortality by 97%.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

FeaturedGreen living