Seeing deer along the highways in Indiana is nothing new. Unfortunately, neither saw the result of a collision with a deer on the side of the road.
Annually, more than 14,000 deer-vehicle collisions are reported in Indiana, according to a 2021 newsletter from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. And across the country, the Federal Highway Administration has estimated that between 1 and 2 million vehicle-animal strikes occur every year.
Those strikes are a risk to not only the animals but also to those on the road and can cause over $8.3 billion in damage, the FHA said.
But what can be done about it? That’s where the idea of wildlife crossing comes in.
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Many of us have seen pictures and videos of a bear or elk lumbering across a landscaped overpass out West as cars zoom by underneath. But the question remains if something like that would work in Indiana.
That’s what this week’s Scrub Hub is all about: Does Indiana have any wildlife crossings? Do they make sense in Indiana?
To answer those questions, we spoke with both the DNR and the Indiana Transportation Department. We also checked in with the Indiana Wildlife Federation to learn more.
Does Indiana have wildlife crossings? The short answers
Yes, but it depends on what counts as a crossing.
According to the DNR, a wildlife crossing is a structure specifically designed and built to allow wildlife to cross over or under a roadway or utility corridor. Ensuring wildlife doesn’t have to cross roads limits collisions and “increases safety for both people and wildlife,” the agency said. The crossings also connect species to their habitat areas, which is critical for species’ health and more adaptable wildlife populations.
The state has just one standalone crossing — or the big type of crossing you think about in the western US In Indiana’s case, it’s an underpass along Interstate 69 in Gibson County. It was constructed to allow deer to pass under the road to a large, forested area.
While there’s just one standalone crossing, the state says it still takes into account the wildlife movement. Most crossings in Indiana focus on wildlife passing under roads at bridges and culverts where streams exist. DNR said that just last year it reviewed more than 140 permits that incorporated designs related to wildlife by either maintaining or improving passage along a stream or river.
Both DNR and INDOT said they are working to collect Indiana-specific data on crossings and their success. National studies, however, have shown significant reductions in collisions after a wildlife crossing has been installed.
Do crossings make sense for Indiana? The long answer
All that said, the typical wildlife crossings people think of in California might not make sense in Indiana.
In Western states, these types of crossings are used to allow groups of large migratory animals such as elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bears or mountain lions to move and access their different habitats, said Dan Boritt, president of the Indiana Wildlife Federation.
But Indiana doesn’t have those kinds of species.
“The big, grand crossings aren’t the best fit for the state because of the type of wildlife we have left,” Boritt said.
One of the bigger species in Indiana is deer, though they are not migratory or a species of conservation concern.
Not that all wildlife isn’t worth helping, Boritt said, but it’s important to focus on areas and species that are threatened or of great significance given limited resources. In Indiana, those species could be something like an endangered frog or salamander.
A state working group has been created to investigate the potential for installing more standalone wildlife crossings in Indiana like the one in Gibson County, DNR and INDOT said. That is in addition to continuing to increase crossings under bridges and culverts.
No matter what type of crossing, experts say infrastructure for wildlife is critical. It’s estimated that there are only 1,000 crossings on America’s 4 million miles of roadways — or just one crossing every 4,000 miles.
The federal bipartisan infrastructure deal has established roughly $350 million for wildlife infrastructure nationwide.
“Everyone wants a wildlife bridge; they are iconic, cool and pretty,” Boritt said. “But based on what we have in the state and what we value and are looking to protect, I think that wouldn’t be what would work best here. But let’s figure out what does the best work.”
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Wildlife crossings can save animals. But do they make sense in Indiana?