The Grass Maybe Greener on the Other Side…

The Grass Maybe Greener on the Other Side…

A persuasive argument about implementing wildlife bridges throughout Ontario, Canada.

Within the province of Ontario, Canada there is a growing population of 14.5 million people (Statistics Canada, 2019) within that the Ministry of Transportation (2005) states that around the 8.5 million drivers held a valid license in 2005, this number has only increased over the nine years, estimating about 300,00 per year. So, well over 50% of Ontarians are on the roads daily. Having more people, more vehicles and more licensed drivers results in the need for more roads, highways and infrastructure. As the Toronto Zoo (2010) states in a report about road ecology in Ontario “In only 60 years the major roads of southern Ontario have increased from 7,133 km to 35,637 km […] Today, no point in the region is more than 1.5 km from a road[.]” They support this claim with a map showing the road density of Southern Ontario (Figure 1).  

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                                                Figure 1 (Toronto Zoo, 2010)

Having so many drivers on the roads in Ontario there is a significant number of wildlife that is impacted. In fact, Jason Tchir (2018) writes in an article for the Globe and Mail that Ontario has the highest collision rates in Canada between cars and animals reported at around 14,000 collisions each year. And that doesn’t include the many incidents that go unreported when smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians are involved, as they tend not to do enough damage to a vehicle or driver to be considered an issue. In fact, according to Andrew Healy (2014), an Environmental Planner and Kari E. Gunson (2014), a Road Ecologist “In Northeaster Ontario, wildlife collisions […] can account for as high as 50% of the total number of collisions along some highways.” 

Since wildlife/vehicle collisions are so high in Ontario you can’t help but wonder what efforts the province is taking to reduce the thousands and thousands of people and wildlife being impacted. Well, according to the State of Ontario’s Biodiversity (2015) “Prior to the last decade, wildlife collision reduction efforts in Ontario were primarily limited to installing wildlife warning signs.” They continue to say that from these measures taken there has been no significant reduction in wildlife collisions. Although, with more research I found that there is one, and only one region of Ontario has taken a more active approach to the reduction of wildlife/vehicle collisions, which would be the Northern Region of Ontario, more specifically Highway 69, south of Sudbury and north of Parry Sound and Highway 11 between Huntsville and North Bay (Healy, Gunson, 2014). 

The resolution created (in specific to Highway 69) to help mitigate the significant amount of wildlife being struck on this major highway was to incorporate “One 30 m wide wildlife bridge(wildlife overpass) [as seen in attatched figure 2]; One large wildlife underpass (twin 5m x 5m culverts); One wildlife creek-bridge pathway under the Lovering Creek bridge; Two wetland underpasses for smaller animals and herpetofauna (2.4m x 3.0m box culverts); Twenty total kilometers of wildlife exclusion fencing; Twenty seven one-way escape gates for potentially trapped animals; and Two ungulate gates (Texas gates) at the Highway 637 and Highway 69 intersections.” (Healy, Gunson, 2014). It was quite the extensive project to develop but since the opening of of these wildlife crossings in 2012 it has proven to be quite successful. Healy and Gunson (2014) explain there have been no collisions between vehicles wildlife such as moose and elk since the overpasses have been opened. 

Figure 1.  Highway 69 wildlife overpass (credit:  Ontario Ministry of Transportation).

                        Figure 2 (State of Ontario’s Biodiversity, 2015).

The idea of action for Highway 69 and Highway 11 came from the very successful and famous wildlife overpasses in Banff National Park, Alberta. These overpasses were completed in January of 2014 (Parks Canada, 2017) and have received a tremendous response in mitigating wildlife/vehicle collisions within the park. Parks Canada (2017) proudly boasts about their 38 wildlife underpasses and six overpasses by saying they have reduced collisions with wildlife “by more than 80% and, for elk and deer alone by more than 96%.” With such an amazing track record it is no wonder that Parks Canada is proud of the achievement and their design is inspiring imitations all over the world. 

Wildlife crossings have been proven to be very effective in the areas they are placed. So why do we not have them in more areas, especially along all major highways in Ontario? Why are we risking our own lives and the lives of innocent animals when there is a solution? I know your answer maybe because the cost of it all, it will come right out of the tax payers pockets. Well, quoting the University of Waterloo professor, Michael Drescher (2018) “[…] what we have found that the cost is quite minimal if they’re incorporated into the renovating a highway, which needs to be done every few years.” Change doesn’t have to come right away, but minor things can be done over time (every few years perhaps) or even starting today by recognizing wildlife signs along the road on your daily commute, they’re there for your safety and the lives of the crossing species. 

References:

Drescher, Michael. (2018). Car collisions with wildlife are getting worse in Ontario, The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/culture/article-car-collisions-with-wildlife-are-getting-worse-in-ontario/

Healy A., Gunson K. (2014). Reducing Wildlife Collisions: What is working in Northeastern Ontario. Retrieved from http://conf.tac-atc.ca/english/annualconference/tac2014/s-29/healy.pdf

Ministry of Transportation. (2005). Drivers Licensing, Section 3.06. Retrieved from http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en05/306en05.pdf

Parks Canada. (2017). Banff National Park, 10 quick facts about highway wildlife crossings in the park. Retrieved from https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/banff/info/gestion-management/enviro/transport/tch-rtc/passages-crossings/faq/10

Statistics Canada. (2019). Population estimates, quarterly. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000901

Tchir, Jason. (2018). Car collisions with wildlife are getting worse in Ontario, The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/drive/culture/article-car-collisions-with-wildlife-are-getting-worse-in-ontario/

Toronto Zoo, Ontario Road Ecology Group. (2010). A Guide to Road Ecology in Ontario. Retrieved from https://www.rom.on.ca/sites/default/files/imce/oreg_final.pdf

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