NATURE NOTE – Number 89                                                      March 28, 2024


NATURE NOTES has covered the National Parks (NATURE NOTE #29) and the protection they afford to wildlife.  However, not all wildlife live in National Parks.  They live along  I-81, U.S. 220 through Franklin County, along U. S. 29 between Lynchburg and Danville and roads all over our area.  It is here, as well as in the National Parks, that deer, bear, reptiles, groundhogs, squirrels and many creatures meet their demise when a vehicle takes them out.  If you have had a collision with a deer, you know the issues it causes, in addition to the death or injury to the deer.  We have all seen the “Deer Crossing” signs, and we often know those stretches of highway where a collision is most likely, but it still happens – quite often.   So what can be done to curtail these collisions?  Let’s call

Our Current Topic:  We love ‘em, but we kill ‘em

A recent article in published by the National Parks magazine by the National Parks Conservation Association discusses this situation.  First, you have to remember that the original intent of the National Parks was to make nature, including wildlife, accessible to the motoring public for their enjoyment; allow them see wildlife in its native habitat.  So roads where build into the parks, and people came and loved seeing that wildlife. However, the wildlife paid a heavy price for those roads.  It is estimated that 300 Black bears have been killed in Yosemite National Park between 1995 and 2012.  The article claims that 1 million animals a day are killed in the U.S. by vehicles – on all highways.  Many of these are reptiles and amphibians, but still, that’s a lot.  Also, it is estimated that some 200 people a year nation-wide are killed in auto-wildlife collisions (I suspect it is much higher if you include vehicles running off the road for unknown reasons) and we pay $8 billion in property loss, health costs and other costs because of these incidents.   A heavy price to pay.  The NPS has become, to some extent, the leader in trying to prevent wildlife collisions.  Now states and other federal agencies are coming on board with measures as well.  What are these measures?  Expensive is one correct answer.  Wide overpasses and underpasses are being designed and emplaced to help wildlife stay off the highways, but safely travel from one side of the highway to the other, thus increasing the intermingling of populations, providing for seasonal migration of herds, and allowing access to food and water.   In Alaska it is common to see high fences along major highways to keep moose off of the right-of-way.  Built into these fences are one-way gates that allow the moose to move from the highway side to the outside of the fence if they get caught near the highway.  Canada has built six, very wide, wildlife-friendly overpasses in one of its national parks, and dozens of smaller underpasses for wildlife to use.  Back to money:  The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $350 million for a pilot plan for states and the NPS to identify collision “hotspots” and create solutions.  The Great American Outdoor Act of 2020 provided $6 billion for National Park Service repair and infrastructure improvement.  Perhaps some of this money will flow into animal-vehicle solutions.  Another approach, being done in a some National Parks now, is the restriction of private vehicles into the park and forcing visitors to view the sights and wildlife from vendor operated buses.  Other National Parks are requiring reservations to enter the park at a particular time in order to regulate the traffic flow.  In addition to wildlife collision, the NPS is also concerned by other road dangers to wildlife from deicing compounds used on roads washing into waterways, and the impact of tiny plastic particles being shed by vehicle tires. 

So we start by making it easier for people to view nature and wildlife, and we end up harming the wildlife (and ourselves) and their ecosystems along the way.  Even if we never visit a National Park, those traveling I-81, U.S. 220 and 29 are, perhaps, doing the same thing.  And we all, if we pay taxes, are contributing to the cost, and hopefully, the solutions to some of these issues.  We are all part of nature.


All of this is meaningful to scouts in several ways.  All of them will be getting their driver’s license in a few years and be subjected to wildlife collisions on many of the roads they will drive – with little experience.  Any conversation held today about the dangers and need to be vigilant of these dangers may pay dividends down the road.  Also, they will soon be among the taxpayers that are footing the bill for some of the solutions.  How much do we need to allocate to this purpose vs. housing the homeless, educating children, defending our country or heading into space?  Priorities.  Isn’t that part of learning about citizenship?  Isn’t scouting about building good citizens for the future?  Complex?  Yes.  Your responsibility?  Yes.  And finally, understanding nature and wildlife and how it is part of our life - or maybe how we are part of nature.  Someone needs to build those wildlife overpasses, and maybe that someone needs to learn about nature today.  They may do better job in the future.  Food for thought.

Thanks for reading NATURE NOTES, thanks for taking an interest in nature, and thanks for doing whatever you can to open up the minds of young people to nature.

Bob Garst

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