The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has announced an open comment period through July 22nd on their draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), which will address North Carolina’s transportation needs for FY2018 through 2027. This comment period offers an excellent opportunity for the conservation community to engage early on issues of habitat connectivity, wildlife road crossings, and wildlife-vehicle collisions. There are several ways to provide comments by mail, phone, or online.

Today, an estimated 4 million miles of public roads exist in the United States. While this infrastructure has provided innumerable benefits to human society, it has come at a cost to all the other creatures that share this landscape. In addition to highway fragmentation of habitat, wildlife-vehicle collisions are estimated to kill one million vertebrates each day in the United States – that’s 365 million unnecessary wildlife deaths each year.

North Carolina has one of the largest state-maintained highway networks in the country, accounting for over 79,000 miles of road. Between 2011 and 2013, the state experienced over 61,000 wildlife-related crashes, nearly 20 fatalities, more than 3,400 injuries, and over $149 million in damages. In addition to endangering North Carolinians, wildlife-vehicle collisions also constitute a major threat to survival for some of the 10+ federally listed threatened or endangered animal species, including the Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel and Red Wolf.

There are, however, proven solutions to this issue: mitigation measures, including wildlife underpasses and overpasses, have been shown to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by 80 to 90%. Despite their upfront costs, these mitigation measures have been shown to pay for themselves over time through cost savings when installed at collision hotspots. These measures also improve functional connectivity through local wildlife corridors. Where mitigation is determined to make sense, such as lengthening a bridge or replacing a culvert, taking steps to prevent collisions and provide safe passage is predicted to save human lives, wildlife, and money.

Providing comments through the STIP process allows private citizens, the conservation community, and others to engage with NCDOT early in transportation plans – many of which can take decades before breaking ground, at which time it is too late to incorporate wildlife mitigation measures. Take advantage of this opportunity now, or prepare for the next comment period slated for September-November 2016 with the NC Road Crossings working group, run by Wildlands Network’s southeast office. This is an informal group of conservation organizations, universities, and state and federal agencies working to study, plan, and advocate for wildlife crossings statewide. Together, they will prepare comments to deliver to NCDOT and welcome new partners to this effort. For more information, contact Maggie Ernest.

Roads present a serious and challenging issue throughout our landscape, but engaging with state and federal transportation agencies is one step towards ensuring that humans are not the only species with a connected habitat.