January 31, 2011

Making Oregon Highways Safer for Animals

Oregon state biologists are reportedly working on highway improvements that could reduce the numbers of animals killed in traffic collisions. According to AP News, the ideas under consideration include simple measures that could save the lives of deer, elk, foxes, and other species who often fall victim to drivers.

Modifications such as guard rails that migrating animals can see through, culverts for passing under roadways, and roadside brush clearing to prevent deer and foxes from dashing into danger would all help animals avoid death by motor vehicle. These are all good ideas. On a larger scale, keeping similar wildlife corridors open is essential to mitigating habitat fragmentation, which threatens critically endangered species who need to move through spaces bisected increasingly by human activity.

Western Environmental Law Center executive director Greg Costello explains that “[w]hen they put another subdivision in a river bottom, they don’t think of how that blocks species that would use that land to migrate along the river valley. Or how when they put trophy homes or resorts at the top of passes they’re impeding the ability of western icons like the grizzly bear to move from one watershed to another.”

Some statistics put the annual number of animal-vehicle crashes in the United States at between 725,000 to 1.5 million. Unfortunately, Oregon lags states like Colorado, which last year enacted a law requiring drivers to slow down or risk doubled fines in zones where wildlife cross highways. That’s a common-sense measure that lawmakers in Salem should implement. As the Ashland Daily Tidings reported, however, “Oregon has had few wildlife-friendly highway projects. [And u]nlike fish-passage requirements for roads crossing streams, Oregon has no law requiring critter-friendly passage for roads except when there’s potential for impacts on threatened or endangered animals.” According to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman, “Oregon’s only projects to date are a stretch of Highway 97 near Bend altered to improve mule-deer migration and a piece of Highway 244 near Elgin altered for lynx passage.”

Not nearly enough. Oregon legislators should now implement measures to rectify the results that Oregon biologists’ studies will surely confirm: “[M]ajor highways not only cause animal deaths via collisions, they also can lock animals out of suitable habitat, and over time alter the genetics of migratory animals all because some animals become chicken while crossing the road.

Related Web Resources
Western Environmental Law Center, Highway 82 Slowing for Wildlife
Mark Freeman, State Tries to Make Freeway More Animal-Friendly, Ashland Daily Tidings, Jan. 27, 2011.
Portland Animal Law Attorney

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