There are a lot of things lurking in the woods in the state of Idaho. Mountain lions can stalk you while you are on your leisurely hike. Wolves prowl while you camp. Bears attack people fishing to protect their cubs or food supply. All of these pale in comparison to the most dangerous animal in the state, and the nation for that matter, deer.
Recent insurance studies show that each year there are 200 deaths by deer in the United states, costing 4 billion dollars. The majority of these deaths are caused by car collisions. The deer aren’t exactly the ones to blame. The term deer in headlights didn’t come from nowhere. The deer had their highways thousands of years ago. We built ours across them. The migration patterns of deer and trails to water sources do not care about highway routes.
In order to prevent human deaths and protect deer migratory paths wildlife bridges can be made. The bridges provide a route for deer and other wildlife to safely cross a busy road. This seems like a no brainer. Preventing accidents saves money in the long-term, not to mention lives.
They also help to keep local wildlife safe and thriving. They are useful for other migratory species. For instance, wildlife bridges have been used to help bring up nearly the extinct Florida panther population.
So why are wildlife bridges not seen on a broader scale in Idaho? For one, we do not have as many endangered species that are likely to cross roads. In areas such as Florida, federal grants help to cover some of the large initial cost that wildlife bridges can have.
Wildlife bridges are also different to build than a traditional bridge. For one thing, they need to be wider than most bridges in order for wildlife to feel comfortable crossing them. They also do not need to conform to the same load bearing standards as other bridges. Traditional bridges need to be able to carry large, heavy automobiles. Wildlife bridges will have at most a few hundred deer. This means designs need to be specialized, which can drive up the cost. In order to combat this problem an organization called ARC has come up with an interesting solution. They created a competition for architectural firms with a 40,000 prize. The winner was the firm that came up for the best design for a wildlife bridge in Colorado. Ideas such as these can make wildlife bridges a better solution. This does not mean that they are the best idea everywhere.
Wildlife crossings, a broader term that includes wildlife bridges, tunnels, fish ladders, etc., are often a more viable option in places such as Idaho. Due to Idaho’s rugged terrain, traditional bridges are often too cost prohibitive or simply an engineering nightmare. In situations such as these, tunnels or other options can provide a practical option that serves the same goal.
A wildlife tunnel was recently constructed near Boise. Deer are a common sight on state highway 21 and warm springs avenue. In order to reduce the amount of vehicle-wildlife collisions, the Idaho Department of Transportation has installed 8 foot tall fences on either side of the road. These fences funnel wildlife to an underpass where they can safely move deer from one side of the highway to the other.
According to the Boise Wildlife Linkage Project, this underpass will cause 80% of deer and elk to go through the underpass instead crossing the road. This reduction in wildlife crossing roads will save lives and money by preventing accidents. This is just a start. There are migratory patterns that cross highways all over Idaho.
In order to save the lives of both Idahoans and wildlife, planners will need to push for more crossings. Projects such as the crossing on highway 21 need to be applauded and emulated. These crossings can save lives and millions of dollars. We need to look beyond the start up costs and think about the long term value these crossings can be. Lets make deer part of the scenery and out of the nations most dangerous animals statistics.