Building a Future of Safer Roads
Each year, the Green Budget Coalition, comprising 24 leading Canadian environmental organizations, releases recommendations on how to address pressing environmental issues in the coming year’s federal budget. For Budget 2020, Sierra Club Canada Foundation included a recommendation for a National Wildlife Collision Data Collection System. This recommendation is now being expanded to include funding for building wildlife vehicle collision mitigation infrastructure. The following is a blog by David Snider, Past President and current Board Member, who serves as our representative on the Green Budget Coalition, outlining the justification for funding wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation infrastructure. As Canada begins to enter the relaxation phase of the pandemic, members of the Green Budget Coalition have been busy preparing recommendations for the recovery phase and Budget 2021. The recovery offers an important opportunity to accelerate efforts to address the biodiversity crisis, including building back better to protect wildlife crossing our roads. Wildlife-vehicle collisions are on the rise in Canada resulting in significant health, economic and environmental costs, including serious impacts on species at risk. With input from our Watch for Wildlife program, a recommendation for a national wildlife-vehicle collision data reporting system was drafted for Budget 2020. The proposed wildlife-vehicle collision data reporting system would not likely have a large impact from a short-term job creation stimulus perspective, since we are recommending that it be adopted and used by existing public servants, contractors and volunteers involved with collision reporting. But it would address the critical need for accurate, timely and standardized collision data to properly locate, plan and monitor wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation infrastructure.So, we thought it would make sense to combine the wildlife-vehicle collision data reporting system with a recommendation for funding to build collision mitigation infrastructure, such as fencing and crossing structures, which could create many jobs. This could be similar to the pilot grant program of $250 million over 5 years to support construction projects that protect motorists and wildlife included in the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019.Banff National Park is a world leader in wildlife-vehicle collision mitigation, with 38 underpasses, 6 overpasses and fencing along the Trans-Canada Highway, that has reduced collisions by more than 80%, and over 96% for elk and deer. However, it appears that resources for mitigation infrastructure are limited. For example, the 2019 Alberta budget allocated $20 million over 4 years for wildlife protection, including one wildlife overpass on the Trans-Canada Highway east of Banff National Park that, with associated fencing, will likely cost around $14 million, instead of the original projected $7 million. A 2012 study identified 10 sites along the same 39 kilometre section of the highway that require wildlife underpasses. The cost of an underpass can be one-half to one-third the cost of an overpass, so it’s unlikely that there will be sufficient funds to build all 10 of these underpasses in the next three years.There is rigorous long-term research demonstrating that crossing structures, combined with wildlife-exclusion fencing, significantly reduce these types of collisions and improve habitat connectivity for wildlife. Cost-benefit studies have shown that a strategically located wildlife crossing can pay for itself in 10 to 20 years, long before the end of the structure’s projected 75-year lifespan. Dedicating federal funding to infrastructure that would reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions and improve ecological connectivity would also provide benefits in the form of job creation, infrastructure resiliency and sustainable natural resources. With wildlife-vehicle collisions increasing across Canada, it’s time for the federal government to step up and make a major investment in mitigation infrastructure that will protect both people and wildlife. David Snider, B.Sc., LL.B.Past President, Board of DirectorsSierra Club Canada Foundation Resources:Green Budget Coalition Pushes For Standardized Wildlife Collision Data, Watch for Wildlife. http://www.watchforwildlife.ca/blog/green-budget-coalition-pushes-for-standardized-wildlife-collision-dataOut West, Building Wildlife Crossings Brings Return on Investment, The Pew Charitable Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2020/02/25/out-west-building-wildlife-crossings-brings-return-on-investmentBudget 2019 sets aside money for wildlife overpass, RMO Today. https://www.rmotoday.com/canmore/budget-2019-sets-aside-money-for-wildlife-overpass-1827435Lee T, Clevenger, AP and RJ Ament. 2012. Highway wildlife mitigation opportunities for the TransCanada Highway in the Bow Valley. Report to Alberta Ecotrust Foundation, Calgary, Alberta. https://www.rockies.ca/files/reports/Bow_Valley_Highway_Mitigation_FINAL_Sept2012.pdfWatch for Wildlife (W4W) is a wildlife-vehicle collision prevention program of the Sierra Club Canada Foundation’s Atlantic Chapter. Initiated in 2016 in Nova Scotia, Watch for Wildlife was developed in response to a recognized need for greater awareness about wildlife-vehicle collision prevention and increasing safety on our roads for both people and wildlife. The program aims to educate drivers on ways to prevent collisions with wildlife, encourage collision reporting and data collection, and advocate for the inclusion of wildlife collision mitigation plans in road design and transportation policy. After two years in Nova Scotia, the program was successfully expanded to New Brunswick in Summer 2018.The objective of the program is straightforward: to reduce injury and mortality of wildlife and people on our roads, and to encourage the implementation of wildlife-friendly road design and vehicle-collision mitigation measures.