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STEM Solutions Provide Safe Passage for Wildlife

Deer, raccoons, and possums are infamous for leaping in front of cars on long, dark roads. At least 1 million animals are struck by cars every day in the United States. However, endangered animals are equally impacted by car strikes. In 2017, 24 Florida panthers suffered fatal vehicle run-ins. This is especially concerning considering there were only 230 panthers in 2017.

Collisions with large mammals rack up over $12 billion dollars in damage in the United States. Central Arizona came up with an innovative solution to this problem. They built a fence bordered by an underpass at one end and a driver alert system on the other. Computers analyze camera footage for presence of animals near the end of the fence. If it detects one, lights flash along the road notifying drivers of the collision risk. Nine elk per year were involved in collisions along this stretch of road. In the nine years this system’s been in place, there have only been seven

Another success story comes from Taiwan. Purple crow butterflies migrate in the thousands across the country. Since their discovery in the 1970s, they’ve faced threats like habitat destruction. To preserve them for future generations, the Freeway Bureau set up nets that forced the butterflies to fly higher out of harm’s way. They take it a step further by closing lanes when the number of butterflies crossing reaches 500 per minute. These methods reduced butterfly fatality by 80 percent. This low-tech yet effective system could also help birds cross safely. This study estimated that 89-340 million birds are killed by cars in the United States each year.

Roadkill is a wildlife impact that’s still not well documented because many collisions are not reported. Getting financial and political support for these types of systems can be tough. However, safe wildlife crossings benefit animals from all corners of the animal kingdom. Keep an ear out for news of road construction in your area and encourage local leaders to build these safe passages, for the benefit of humans and animals alike.