Those familiar with Nova Scotia’s seemingly endless stretches of highway are likely accustomed to the sight of roadkill. But now, Acadia Master’s candidate Stephanie White is researching a way to make our roads safer for both the animals that cross them and the drivers who want to avoid hitting them.
Wildlife fencing and wildlife underpasses/overpasses are common sights in many European countries and along the West Coast of Canada and the United States, where the frequency of large mammal crossings make them a more pressing safety precaution than in other parts of the world. In Atlantic Canada, the vast majority of wildlife road crossing preventative technologies are found in New Brunswick due to the high number of moose and deer in the region.
Nova Scotia, however, may also benefit from the addition of such safety measures, as to date, there are only two known underpasses in the entire province designed for wild animals to cross highways safely. There are other underpasses scattered throughout the province, but they see regular ATV usage which makes them not much more wildlife-friendly than the highways they intersect. The other two wildlife underpasses, which have a metal bar to prevent their use by ATVs, are located at the Cobequid Pass and in Antigonish. Before Stephanie White’s research, neither had been studied to determine what animals used them and whether it would be worthwhile for more to be built.
The government-funded project started in May 2015 with thirty-four trail cameras set up around the Antigonish underpass, which was situated at a highway undergoing construction. This underpass contained both an aqueous and terrestrial component and was designed for small to medium sized animals. A total of 300 000 photos were taken and analyzed. Variables such as the addition of wildlife fencing around the underpass and the usefulness of an atrium to allow light into the underpass were measured. While the study is still ongoing and the huge quantities of trail camera pictures are still being analyzed, promising findings are emerging.
These findings conclude that the terrestrial component is most often used by hares and porcupines, but since the addition of wildlife fencing on the side of the highway, an average of one black bear a week has been observed crossing the underpass. The aquatic component sees animals such as musk rats, wild minks, beavers and families of ducks crossing it. The findings of ducklings using the underpass have especially exciting implications for road accident prevention as many drivers are tempted to stop or swerve when they see a trail of ducklings following their mother across a highway.
While this project is still ongoing, it indicates so far that investment in wildlife fencing and wildlife underpass construction could reduce the number of small and medium sized animals crossing Nova Scotia’s highways. This could significantly improve the safety of Nova Scotia’s animals and drivers along the many kilometers of highway running the length of the province.