The network of roads that crisscross Southern Ontario is constantly growing as development expands. While these roads are important in our daily lives, they alter the landscape and have a significant impact on biodiversity.
“Roads are a primary threat for many species,” says Mandy Karch, Executive Director of the Ontario Road Ecology Group (OREG) and chair of the Road Ecology Working Group. Apart from mortality due to collisions, roads fragment and alter the habitats they cut through and cause pollution from things like exhaust, chemicals, and road salt, as well as light and noise pollution. Wildlife such as turtles and snakes are often drawn to roads to bask on the surface due to the heat that roads absorb and because of nesting substrate found on road shoulders, putting them at increased danger to be hit.
Norfolk County was selected as a Priority Place largely due to the well-known biodiversity here, and some of its most significant Species at Risk, primarily turtles and other reptiles and amphibians, directly feel the impact from roads and traffic.
Altering road infrastructure to consider the local ecology is an important step to reduce wildlife mortality and habitat fragmentation. The Long Point Causeway Improvement Project, which began back in 2006, involved installing 4.5 kilometers of exclusion fencing to keep wildlife off the roads and special culverts to allow them to pass safely under the road. Researchers have found these measures led to nearly 89 percent fewer turtles making it onto the causeway. Because of the clear success of this project in reducing road mortality of wildlife, the Road Ecology Working Group is looking to install infrastructure at other hotspots in the Priority Place.
There are also a lot of individual actions anyone can do anytime they drive to help.
“The public is a key partner in determining how roads and traffic affect biodiversity,” says Karch. “Motorist behaviour, such as driving speed and attentiveness, tremendously influences whether or not a wildlife/vehicle collision will occur.”
Karch lists some important ways you can help keep wildlife safe while driving:
- Watch for wildlife, especially when driving on roads that bisect wetland, forest, or field habitat
- Don’t litter! Even biodegradable food items pose a risk as they draw wildlife to the roadside to feed, putting them in danger of a collision
- If you stop to help a turtle cross the road, always move it in the direction it is heading, and only when safe for you and other motorists. Use a car mat or blanket for snapping turtles if you’re unsure how to handle them, and never lift a turtle by its tail.
- Watch for wildlife crossing signs and obey speed limits. Sufficient reaction time is key to safely avoiding collision with wildlife.