Land Bridges Are Helping Animals Cross Safely, Saving The Lives Of Motorists And Wildlife

January 4, 2015

When humans build new roads or expand existing ones, they destroy animal habitats. The animal-vehicle collisions caused by roadways typically result with the loss of animal life, but also threaten human safety.

land bridges for animals
Credit: Montana Department of Transportation

Engineers at the University of Montana are working to mitigate the impact of roads on wildlife by building overpasses and underpasses that give animals the freedom to move safely and at will.

land bridges for animals
Credit: Shutterstock

The project began after the Montana Department of Transportation approached the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes with a proposal to widen U.S. Highway 93 where it bisects the Flathead Indian Reservation. To preserve the spirit of the land, the tribes insisted that animal life be protected.

land bridges for animals
Credit: Montana Department of Transportation

While people view highways as a means of getting from one place to another, to wildlife they are just the opposite: a barrier. Highways turn contiguous habitat into haphazardly fragmented islands where animals must either find their way across, or learn to feed, roam, and reproduce in an increasingly limited area.

The 56-mile segment of Highway 93 now contains 41 fish and wildlife underpasses and overpasses, as well as other protective measures to avoid fatalities. As creatures become accustomed to the crossings, usage is increasing - at last count, the number was in the tens of thousands.

land bridges for animals
Credit: Montana Department of Transportation

Motion cameras have captured deer teaching their young to run back and forth through the crossings, much like human mothers teach their children to safely cross a street.

Highway departments around the country are now studying their example.

Read more at Co.Exist.

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