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Sharing the Road - it's time to include Wildlife Crossing Needs in Road Design and adjust our Thinking as Drivers

When you almost hit a deer on a regular basis, it gets you thinking ... by Wanda Baxter

Last night I barely missed a deer that bolted out across the road in front of me. It was a rainy night, around 7:30, quite dark already, and I didn’t see anything until the deer was bounding across the road in a full run.

It was only because I was driving at a manageable speed, at about 75 km on a country road with an 80 km speed limit that I missed the deer – because I had time to brake and the deer had the seconds it needed to get across in front of me. And, because I knew I might see a deer, I was driving with that kind of attention.

The day before yesterday I saw five deer cross in succession. Last week I heard from Hope at Hope for Wildlife that she responded to four ‘deer hit’ calls through the night.

Deer are on the move, and their movements are unpredictable. When they cross the road, they go for it – and they are crossing a lot during October and November. Most collisions with deer happen at this time of year. Please drive with heightened awareness, especially at dawn and dusk when a majority of collisions happen. Hitting a deer can run thousands of dollars in repairs, can result in varying degrees of injury, can be emotionally difficult, and often results in an injured or dead animal. Please keep an eye out for wildlife on the road. They are out and about, and it makes for a better day to drive on knowing that you missed hitting or killing an animal and/or injuring yourself or others because you were paying attention, than otherwise. You can't prevent every collision with wildlife, but if you drive with attention and a controlled speed, you can prevent most.

Last year I came across a scene that I couldn’t have imagined. A driver hit a deer going in one direction. The deer was disoriented and injured but didn’t go down. A driver coming in the opposite direction hit the deer again. Both drivers who hit the deer kept going and the driver of the truck following stopped to move the still living, badly injured animal off the road and try to help it (not advised! Moving an injured animal is extremely dangerous – it would be better to put vehicle hazards to warn coming vehicles of the animal on the road). We called the RCMP to come and put the animal out of its misery.

Drivers who hit deer (and other animals) and don’t report or check to see if they have left a suffering animal or a dangerous situation for other drivers are not charged in Nova Scotia, and there is no charge or requirement to report – even though situations like this happen. Animal cruelty law in Nova Scotia prohibits injuring or killing wild animals unless by intent (i.e. hunting, which is managed, and causing undue suffering is prohibited) OR if you hit something with a vehicle. But it is not responsible or humane to hit wildlife and keep going without a second thought - even though many of us behave this way.

We are at a tipping point. The impact of road building and vehicle collisions on wildlife is now considered the number one source of mortality in North America for many species. Blandings and Wood Turtles are endangered in Nova Scotia and vehicle collisions are a primary source of mortality. Mainland Moose are endangered and the impact of roads and road building (and the need for habitat connectivity) on their viability is not well known.  Snakes and amphibians, bats and new research has shown that bees are also killed by vehicles at levels not previously imagined.

Nova Scotians love to drive and many of us don’t live walking distance from stores or family and friends, and we have few options for getting from A to B without driving in our own vehicles. We rely on trucking to transport the majority of products, and our current plan is to twin highways in areas of highest use (and where accidents are most prevalent). The impact of all this driving on the climate is well known by now, but the impacts of all this road building and driving on wildlife is often overlooked.

Wildlife is not a consideration currently in road building in Nova Scotia, though accommodating wildlife movement and habitat connectivity in road design is increasingly the best practice standard we need to be moving toward. We don’t have Grizzly Bears or Caribou Herds or the research the west has, but we need to be looking to their example for how to build roads that enable the survival of wild species. 

(Arc Design is at the forefront of this work - their website is here: http://arc-solutions.org/article/arc-wins-fhwa-2015-environmental-excellence-awards-for-environmental-leadership/) Photo Credit: NewTimes.com - file photo.

 

(Arc Design is at the forefront of this work - their website is here: http://arc-solutions.org/article/arc-wins-fhwa-2015-environmental-excellence-awards-for-environmental-leadership/) Photo Credit: NewTimes.com - file photo.

 

 

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