RICHMOND — The General Assembly recently passed a measure that will create a plan to reduce wildlife-related vehicle accidents, though opponents tout the bill as an example of wasteful government spending.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, directs the Virginia departments of Game and Inland Fisheries, Transportation and Conservation and Recreation to conduct a study to identify areas where wildlife habitat is fragmented by human development and roads with a high wildlife collision rate.
Marsden said the measure, known as the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan, is intended to help prevent wildlife-related car accidents. There were 61,000 such collisions reported in 2016, according to VDOT.
“People get killed in wildlife collisions, mostly with deer,” Marsden said.
There were 211 deaths from such collisions in the United States, according to State Farm, which tracks deer-related insurance claims across the nation.
The bill would give the DGIF two years to complete a study. Marsden said that after the study is done, the General Assembly will look into building wildlife overpasses along roads identified as problem areas. He said wildlife overpasses were successfully implemented in Charlottesville.
“They tried this on I-64 in Charlottesville and reduced wildlife collisions by 98%,” Marsden said.
Ryan Brown, DGIF executive director, said the bill addresses a complex issue and is intended to protect wildlife in two ways.
Brown said his department will work with other agencies to identify places where development has fragmented wildlife habitats and address the work needed to avoid human and wildlife conflict.
“Wildlife moves around and they don't read road signs,” Brown said.
The agencies will identify wildlife corridors and study migration routes of native, game and migratory species using existing state data. They will assess human barriers such as roads, dams, power lines and pipelines and determine areas with a high risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The study will contain maps to detail such wildlife corridor infrastructure, as well as recommendations for creating safe wildlife crossings. Brown said options might include fencing along problem roads and bridge-like structures to assist wildlife with safe crossing.
Brown said this issue is likely to get worse over time.
“As wildlife habitat becomes more and more fragmented in an urbanizing Virginia, that makes it difficult in terms of management of wildlife population,” he said.
Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, voted against the bill. He said the measure would be too costly.
“I do not believe the legislation is needed and it will end up creating another bureaucratic process that will cost time and money for no real benefit,” Cole said in an email. “The government is very good at establishing needless bureaucratic hurdles.”
Marsden said the legislation is worthwhile, considering Virginia is one of the top states for wildlife collisions. In 2018, Virginia ranked 12th for deer collisions, with drivers facing a 1 in 99 chance of hitting a deer, according to data from State Farm.
“It’s good for the animals and the drivers,” Marsden said. “It’s worth the effort to save property and save lives.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.