Virginia a Model for Wildlife Protection
Climate change and loss of habitat now endanger more than a million species in this country, and a growing number of people are calling for preservation of more land and corridors that allow wildlife to move.
Virginia is playing a surprising role in that fight.
When more than 300 people joined a Zoom call to talk about how wild animals can travel safely in North America, a scientist from the Virginia Department of Transportation was a featured speaker.
“We know from insurance claims that in the U.S. we have about 1.5 million crashes with deer, elk and moose," said research scientist Bridget Donaldson. "Sixty thousand of these are in Virginia.”
That's why she suggests special bridges and underpasses be considered when new highways are built, but this state has shown other ways to protect wildlife.
“We took two existing structures on I-64, which is a large bridge that was over a river and a box culvert, neither of which were originally designed for wildlife," Donaldson explained. "We simply added one mile of 8-foot high wildlife fencing at each site.”
That fencing steered animals to the safer crossing points and cut the accident rate by 90%. That could explain why – with bipartisan support, the General Assembly passed the Virginia Wildlife Corridors Bill, sponsored by Senator David Marsden. It requires VDOT and the Department of Wildlife Resources to track animal travel patterns and determine ways of protecting those critters.
“It allows for populations to maintain breeding health, an ability to roam and find food and stay out of my wife’s flowers,” he told the group.
Virginia ranks in the top ten states when it comes to collisions with deer. Marsden says that drives up insurance rates while putting people and wildlife at risk.