March 6, 2020
Patty Garvey-Darda loves pikas. They are small mammals related to rabbits. “I think they are about the cutest animals alive,” she told TIME for Kids. Garvey-Darda is a wildlife biologist. She works for the United States Forest Service. She wants to protect pikas and other creatures from a common threat: vehicles . The Federal Highway Administration says more than a million roadway accidents involving animals happen in the U.S. each year. These collisions hurt wildlife and people.
One solution to this problem? Wildlife crossings. In the U.S. and around the world, bridges and underpasses are being built to help animals safely cross roads.
Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, has some of the most successful wildlife crossings. Completed in 2014, these include 38 underpasses and six overpasses, or bridges. They prevent the park’s animals from being hit while crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, which bisects the park. Parks Canada says the crossing system has reduced collisions with wildlife by more than 80%.
People study the Banff crossings as a guide for new construction projects, Rob Ament says. He works for the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University. Ament notes Banff’s “high quality of design.” This includes fencing to direct animals away from roads.
Ament is using his expertise on wildlife crossings for a project in Assam, India. One of the state’s highways is on the border of Kaziranga National Park. “Animals leave the park to go up a dry hill during monsoon season,” Ament says. “That means they have to cross the highway.” Plans are in the works for a safe pathway beneath it.
Wildlife crossings have been built in several U.S. states, including Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. In Washington State, Garvey-Darda is part of a major project. She’s helping to design a set of about 20 wildlife crossings. “Banff has been the best model for us,” she says. Washington’s crossings are being built along a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 90 (I-90). That’s a long highway. This section of I-90 bisects the Cascade mountain range. It has disrupted the migration of animals in the area.
All 20 crossings are expected to be completed by 2029. So far, six underpasses and one overpass have been built. Garvey-Darda says these crossings have made a difference. “We now have close to 5,000 deer and elk going through the undercrossings,” she says. “All of these animals were potential accidents.”
This spring, Washington locals can plant vegetation on the I-90 overpass. Garvey-Darda says the plants will encourage animals, including her beloved pika, to use the crossings. “It’s important to be proactive ,” she says, “and not wait until a species is endangered.”