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What about the Numbers? How much of a problem are Wildlife Vehicle Collisions?

We can build roads that accommodate and protect wildlife, but we need the collision numbers to justify spending public money to do it ...

"Presence of Wildlife – A review of historical collision data revealed that wildlife collisions are quite prevalent along the corridor. While avoiding or striking wildlife, motorists can lose control and cause other types of collisions such as run off road, rear end, or head on." - Highway 104 Operational and Safety Review, 2015

Last week I was talking to someone about the Watch for Wildlife program and he was curious about numbers. Everyone, it seems, is. It seems that unless I say x # (and x is a really large number) are killed every year on roads or make a solid case by numbers and percentages that indicates too many wild animals are killed by vehicles in our province, it isn’t an issue. It made me think. I told the story to someone else, and they agreed. It’s true. You have to know numbers. Hmm. Well, we know thousands of wild creatures die on our roads every year, but it isn’t as many as are killed by hunters, or predators, or nature, we don't think, so is it a problem? Should we care?

I have also wanted to know how many animals and other wildlife are killed on our roads since I first started digging into this issue – especially in terms of making sure we have baseline numbers to compare change against. It is a way to gauge how much of a problem it is. A main stumbling block, however, is that we honestly don’t know. That is part of what’s wrong. Not a lot of collisions with anything smaller than a coyote are ever reported here and elsewhere, and no one is tracking large animal vehicle collision numbers consistently or from all potential sources. In Nova Scotia we are dealing with impartial data sets and approximations because we haven’t yet decided whether we need to know these numbers. It is a bit of a Catch 22. We don’t know because we don’t think we need to know, or no one is in charge of knowing; but we need numbers to know for sure if there is a problem we need to deal with.

That we are asking these kinds of questions is a reflection of our collective thinking. I am not sure that many of us ever think about whether it matters if wild animals are healthy and have enough room and food to live as wild creatures – or not; and whether they can move from one place to another without the threat of being hit by a vehicle or killed by us because their numbers become too high for our comfort.

 


Another person asked me at the Hope for Wildlife Open House why people would want to try to encourage more Moose onto Mainland Nova Scotia (where Moose are endangered) because it is safer to drive without Moose here (he was referring to the Moose “Sex Project”), and look at the problems they have in Newfoundland.

It also made me pause. 

Not all of us share the same attitudes about wildlife. To some, wildlife seems mostly a nuisance and in the way – and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if most wildlife weren’t here at all unless in a stew pot. To others, they are beautiful and appreciated at a distance or in parks or ‘over there’, but not in the back yard or on the trail making us feel scared or intruded upon.

To other people, people like me, they want to see wildlife given at least a chance to live as wild creatures, fulfill their role in the natural ecosystem, and be treated humanely when they die. I am not sure wildlife has enough connected space left to live naturally, and I am not sure that when they die on and near our roads it is without undue suffering, and that bothers me a fair amount. That wildlife is left like litter along our roads after being hit doesn’t seem like something we would want to teach our children. That we don’t know how many animals are hit by vehicles every year seems like something we have forgotten to take account of. With more roads and more cars on the road and more twinned highways (that most wildlife won’t try to cross, eventually) and little consideration of wildlife in transportation planning, wildlife isn’t winning. We can build roads that accommodate and protect wildlife (and us, from wildlife on roads - wildlife overpasses have been shown to reduce collisions by 80%), but we need the numbers to justify spending public money to do it.


Is one animal left dying at the side of the highway without anyone stopping to see if it’s dead, or move it off the road or put the animal out of its misery too many? Are ten animals too many? Should we only care about collisions with wildlife if they are endangered or rare in Nova Scotia of if the number killed is a significant amount - or if they are a significant hazard to people? Will we care when more of our wild creatures are rare?

Watching for wildlife as we drive is, at the core, about being decent. It is about not wanting to inflict suffering or death on a wild creature by mistake – especially if it is happening a lot. It is also about being stewards of a world we now dominate.

Maybe Watch for Wildlife is also about trying to spur conversations like this one - about whether or not we are willing to share the world and will make the effort (and spend the money required) to do that. I hope we decide soon that we are.

- Wanda Baxter, Watch for Wildlife NS

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