A fatal collision between a motorcycle and a deer on Highway 8 last month brought the need to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions on our roads into glaring reality.
The impacts of wildlife-vehicle collisions on people and wildlife are increasing, incrementally and exponentially, across our province and country, and we aren’t managing them effectively.
The stats are staggering — more than 800 deer were killed on Nova Scotia roads last year, a low estimate, and millions of creatures are injured and killed on roads across the country every year.
The highway twinning projects currently underway and planned in Nova Scotia are the perfect opportunity to incorporate wildlife crossings and collision-mitigation infrastructure like wildlife warning systems, wildlife crossing signage, wildlife fencing and underpasses into our road system. A new study out of the University of Waterloo, recently reported in national media, found that wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation solutions are relatively inexpensive, especially if incorporated when new projects are being built.
Twinning different highway sections in Nova Scotia provides the perfect opportunity to cost-effectively integrate wildlife collision-mitigation structures into our road system, and so minimize injury and mortality of both wildlife and people. It is also good timing to incorporate public education about collision prevention and wildlife behaviour, to help reduce increased collisions that result from opening new highways.
I developed Watch for Wildlife (a wildlife-vehicle collision prevention program of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation) due to concern about the amount of wildlife I was seeing dead on roads and the roadside in Nova Scotia, and because I witnessed a number of collisions firsthand where no one knew what to do or who to call. For the last three years, we have been delivering education about wildlife-vehicle collision prevention and how to respond to collisions (our brochure is available to download from our website, www.watchforwildlife.ca) - but public education alone won’t reduce the amount of wildlife vehicle collisions on our roads.
In order to significantly reduce collisions with wildlife (including with species at risk, which are particularly vulnerable) and to minimize the negative ecological impacts of road building, we need road design and construction to be informed by adequate ecological data, collision data and analysis, habitat connectivity mapping and state-of-the-art road design guidelines for collision mitigation.
Guidelines and standards exist in other provinces and countries. We need to be incorporating collision-mitigation guidelines now in Nova Scotia as we twin numerous sections of highways. Some of the mitigation methods we need to see (much) more of as we twin our highways and build new roads include: wildlife warning signage and fencing (with monitored endpoints), underpasses, culvert shelves, median barriers that enable the movement of wildlife and don’t trap them in the middle (I saw four animals dead in the median next to the Jersey barriers on the edge of Halifax last week — concrete barriers that give wildlife zero chance of crossing roads), bridges that are wide enough to facilitate safe wildlife movement, species specific aquatic wildlife crossings, and lower speed limits in high collision areas.
As citizens, we can become informed about collision prevention, and we can ask for more crossing signage where we know it is needed (collision data collection helps to verify these), and for more collision-mitigation infrastructure as new roads are built. The Turtle Patrol out of Halifax is doing good work, bringing attention to the need for turtle crossings and signage in high-collision areas. We are working with them and other partners and our government to encourage wildlife crossing signs and collision mitigation for a range of species that need — and deserve — adequate data collection and corresponding infrastructure development that ensures their safe passage across, or under, roads at the same time we humans build our own.
Finally, counterintuitively, collisions with wildlife will increase over the next couple of months — especially with deer. Deer are on the move (some with little ones in tow), baby turtles are making their way into the world, and other species are busy preparing for migration and winter.
Driving aware of animals’ need to move, and the likelihood of seeing them, is a key piece of what you can do to reduce collisions. For more tips on preventing collisions with wildlife and what to do if you are in a collision, go to our website or get in touch.
Wanda Baxter, M. Env. Design, is the Program Manager for Watch for Wildlife. She lives in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia.