The rain strikes the windshield and the wipers struggle to keep up. Work ran late and you rush through the city, opting for an unfamiliar shortcut, hoping to make it home in time for the season premiere of The Walking Dead. A yellow sign cautioning drivers to deer in the area tears you away from your growing anticipation. A sudden surge of panic shoots through your body. Through the endless rain your eyes shoot from side-to-side, scanning the roadside for wooded areas and glowing eyes, but seeing nothing. You disregard the sign as inappropriate and out of place. The growling in your stomach urges the gas pedal closer to the floor. All you see next is a set of piercing eyes dance across your vision as a deer crunches the hood of your car on impact. Panicked, the brakes connect with the floor and tires skid across the slick, wet road. Your last thought is “How did a deer get into the middle of a city?”
Animal-vehicle collisions are all too uncommon. The Wildlife Collision Prevention Program cites four to eight large animal-vehicle collisions occur every hour in Canada.
One of three buffalo became a part of that statistic after they escaped their pen in Niagara Falls, NY. After the buffalo found its way onto the QEW, it was stuck and killed by two vehicles. Of the two remaining buffalo, one was captured but the other is still on the loose.
According to the Ministry of Transportation’s 2010 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report, 27 per cent of vehicle collisions with ‘moveable objects’ involve a wild animal.
Analysis of Vehicle Collisions with Moose and Deer on New Bruinswick Arterial Highways, a paper written for the 2003 Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, says two of the greatest contributing factors to animal-vehicle-related accidents are residential growth and industrial development.
As our population expands, buildings and roads must also grow. This is also known as urbanization, which is defined by Merriam Webster as “the process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger as more and more people begin living and working in central areas”.
According to National Geographic, less than one-third of the world’s population lived in cities in 1950. By 2030, about two-thirds of humanity is expected to live in urban areas.
“The way nature works is, there’s only a certain amount of room. It’s like a rope. The more housing we build or the more we build, the tighter the rope gets,” said Kelli Polsinelli, founder of Oshawa-based not-for-profit rehabilitation centre, Wild Earth Refuge.
Population growth has steadily increased at roughly 1.13 per cent, or around 80 million people per year and with this, the demands for infrastructure and community growth has become part of the natural order on Earth.
However, population growth and urbanization do not just equate to animal fatalities; animal-vehicle collisions cause millions of dollars’ worth of damage per year. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, the estimated average vehicle-damage costs about $2,800 per accident, which equates to a total of $39.2 million just for property damage costs in Ontario. The Wildlife Collision Prevention Program reports an estimated $600,000 is spent by the Ministry of Transportation for highway clean-up per year.
There are ways to both prevent and minimize the impact urbanization has on wildlife and subsequently, the financial and economical burden on humans. Under the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, all municipal development projects must follow the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA). In order to accommodate the increased traffic created by newly built subdivisions, the city must look at first widening the road. Before they create a plan to do so, they must first conduct an environmental assessment to decide whether this action is appropriate for the area.
“There’s different levels of environmental assessment depending on what type of improvement you’re looking at,” said Kevin Wilson, project manager of Engineering Services for the City of Oshawa. “[The assessments may look at] all the heritage aspects, how you’re going to effect noise, wildlife areas, conservation areas and provincially significant wetlands.”
This issue is certainly not something that should be left to the government to solve. According to Defenders of Wildlife, Banff National Park in Alberta has already made steps toward the prevention of animal-vehicle collisions. The National Park has built 22 wildlife underpasses, two of which have seen a reduction in road kill of 80 per cent.
Urbanization’s effect on wildlife and in turn, the effect on the economy is an important issue. According to culturechange.org, more than a million animals in the U.S. are killed on the road annually. Defenders of Wildlife also say that 13,000 animal deaths still go unrecorded each year. What is needed is more data collection for wildlife-vehicle collisions and a deeper global awareness of the impacts humanity is having on the world. Every person born and each building added to accommodate community growth are taking space, homes and resources away from wildlife, like the buffalo.
What does fate hold for the lone buffalo still on the loose? One of the three escaped buffalo are already dead and one captured. Based on this, the remaining buffalo has a 50 per cent chance at survival. Will this buffalo become a statistic before it’s found? And if it it does, will this change anything? Will precautions be made, will overpasses be built or better fences installed? Let’s hope so.