About a decade ago, when I used to ride my bike a lot more (something I need to get back to), I decided to undertake a pretty wild trek. I rode about 15 miles from my house to the base of a mountain and then scaled its somewhat steep face on the north side.
As I got close to the top, I came across a sight that shocked me. In the shade, and within a few dozen yards of the peak, were thousands of snails. I had heard that there was an endangered species of snail in the area, but had never actually seen a single snail until that day. At some point in the past, they had lived all over the whole area, but now they only lived in the shade and close to the peak of the mountain.
Having learned more about climate change in some classes I had taken in school, it was pretty clear what was happening. As temperatures rose on the desert floor even just a degree or two, the snails were forced to retreat to higher ground and into the shade for protection. As the warming continued, the snails had to retreat higher for safety. By that day, they had retreated almost to the top, and probably had nowhere to go in the last few years.
The Statement Isn’t Very Accessible
A recent joint statement, published at PewTrusts.org, explains that road designers need to think about this kind of wildlife movement more.
The title, “Joint Statement Regarding Climate-Informed Wildlife Crossings” is pretty dry. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of language that would get right-of-center eyes rolling. The same can be said of much of the document, because it uses dry academic language that glazes eyes over. It’s full of calls for “woke” stuff like inclusivity, equity, and this little gem of a paragraph:
Establish policies and institutional norms that encourage climate-informed wildlife crossings. Institutionalize the inclusion of climate adaptation considerations and foundational ecological principles (e.g., the importance of ecological connectivity) into transportation planning and procedures through administrative, executive, and regulatory actions.
I don’t mean to belittle the concepts behind this and their importance, but I think we need to bring the important ideas these academics are trying to share with transportation planners down a little closer to earth so that they can be understood by the broader public and actually get implemented instead of ignored or labeled as woke academic gobbledygook that gets ridiculed (and then ignored).
In this article, I’m going to try to sum it up and make it something we can talk to people about.
A More Accessible Way To Explain Wildlife Crossings
The problem of wildlife crossing roads and getting hit by cars is a serious issue that affects both animals and humans.
As urbanization continues to encroach on natural habitats, more and more animals are forced to cross busy roads in search of food, water, or mates. This puts them at risk of being struck by vehicles, which can cause serious injuries or even death.
Not only is this tragic for the animals themselves (and the viability of their species), but it can also be dangerous for drivers who may swerve or brake suddenly to avoid hitting them. Or, worse, larger animals can seriously injure or kill people in vehicles who strike them.
Wildlife crossings such as bridges and tunnels have been developed to address this issue, and we generally look at where these accidents occur today to decide where to add such infrastructure to roadways. This makes a lot of sense, because we need to bring the solution to where the problem is, right?
We Need To Consider More Local & Scientific Information When Placing Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure
The problem with this approach is that it can be wasteful. If we only look at where the crashes are happening today, a transportation agency could install a crossing and spend millions only to find to their horror that the wildlife move somewhere else and keep getting into accidents with cars.
How do we avoid this? It comes down to several things.
First, we need to look for local knowledge. Just like you know more about your town than somebody who lives a thousand miles away, people who live near the wildlife crossings know their area better than you probably do.
Like Rodney Dangerfield, sometimes the people who we need to talk to “don’t get no respect.” Poor people living in trailers and RVs, native tribes, “redneck” hunters, and racial minorities who live nearby have historically been ignored by government officials and wealthier people who thought they were better than them.
In other words, we need to talk to the rednecks and other rural people more when we want to learn about wildlife because they know the place.
It doesn’t sound so woke now, does it?
The other group of people we need to talk to more are the scientists. I know they tend to write using language that’s so dense it would put a neutron star to shame, but they also have some good ideas about where wildlife will go in the next few years.
Sure, they’re going to tell you that climate change will cause the wildlife to move, but you don’t have to believe that climate change is caused by humans and go buy an EV to listen to them. Whether the warming is caused by us or by natural processes (like God or the sun), it’s happening and it’s going to make the animals move.
Unless we want to waste a bunch of taxpayer money for nothing, it’s probably a good idea to figure out where the critters are going to move to later and learn more about the critters from the local rednecks and “Injuns” if we want to be fiscally conservative and good stewards of the tax money.
Also, if we want to get good information, we have to be nice to people. Or, as the Bible says, treat other people the way we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). There’s nothing woke about that! So, when we go to talk to the people near the road we’re trying to stop wildlife accidents on, we need to keep that in mind.
I hope my more accessible summary of the document can help readers communicate this concept to people who need to hear it but wouldn’t be impressed with a link to the PDF’s academic language.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.
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