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The infrastructure bill currently working its way through the legislative branch has become a political wedge, driving accusations, arguments, and scathing op-eds both on the hill and in the media. There’s one aspect of it, though, that has gotten little attention (though it should): what passing the bill would mean for wildlife.
There are over a million wildlife-vehicle collisions in the United States every year, and many experts feel that that number is vastly under-reported. Such accidents are responsible for an average of 29,000 injuries and 200 fatalities to humans annually, not to mention the exponentially larger number of both that they cause to the wildlife; According to a report compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, there are 21 threatened or endangered species for which vehicle collisions are a major threat to survival. The total annual cost of these collisions to both individual drivers and federal and state governments is over 8 billion dollars.
There is a solution, though: Wildlife crossings such as overpasses and underpasses, along with wildlife fencing to direct animal traffic towards them, are proven to reduce WVCs. However, both overpasses and underpasses are expensive to build. That’s why the $350 million in the infrastructure bill could make such a difference for wildlife, finally providing the budget to build wildlife crossings in migration paths and common collision spots all across the country.
There’s money for more than just highway crossings in the wildlife section of the bill, though. The measure would dole out another billion dollars over 5 years to states, tribes, and local governments to repair and replace the culverts that salmon use to return to spawning grounds now blocked by city streets. $250 million, again over 5 years, would go to repairing trails and forest service roads that have been damaged or just fallen into disrepair over years of underfunding.
It’s not yet clear whether the bill will advance or in what form; it has passed the Senate but stalled in the House, where voting has been delayed until the end of October. Whether it passes or not, this infrastructure bill has at least set a precedent for taking steps towards a transportation system that works not just for drivers but for the wildlife we share the country with, too.