To get to the other side: Crossings

In Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet author Ben Goldfarb shines a light on the millions of animals who perish on our roads.

There are four million miles of paved roads in the US on which a million animals die each year. Goldfarb notes the tragic irony of our road building, how we humans often followed in the paths forged by migrating animals. Is it any wonder these paved roads have led to many conflicts with the creators?

Not only do roads cut off critical migration routes they create noise pollution, hasten the spread of invasive species, and when we salt the roads in winter to clear the ice we create a salt lick that attract moose and monarchs, resulting in more fatalities.

I was surprised to learn that a few species have successfully adapted to our roads. Like cliff swallows, those amazing birds that nest under bridges. Apparently over the past few decades they have evolved their wings to turn more quickly and avoid the trucks passing inches underneath. Scientists have documented how swallows, once killed by the many thousands on the highways of Nebraska, now largely escape death. Sadly, most species just aren’t equipped to evolve quickly enough, like the poor squirrels and deer outside my front door.

Roadkill is not unique to the US. Goldfarb travels to other countries, including Australia. In Tasmania, known as the world’s roadkill capital, he finds pervasive marsupial casualties: wallabies, wombats and koalas. And he highlights a few of the many amazing volunteers who rescue and raise the joeys often found within the dead mothers. As someone who has visited and met one of these volunteers, my advice, should you visit, is to avoid driving at night entirely. In fact, in some parts of Australia your rental car insurance will forbid you from doing so, and wisely so.

So what’s the solution? For one, I wish people would take those Wildlife Crossing signs more seriously. But it seems the only long-term solution is to give animals a way over or under our roads. And that’s where this book gives us hope — in showing us a way forward and the people leading the way.

Here in Southern Oregon there is work underway to create a wildlife crossing. The crossing can’t come soon enough. Animals are like us and we are like them. We simply want to get to the other side.

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