Proposed bill could reduce wildlife collisions

By Heather Michon

A bill that could lead to better protections for humans and deer on Virginia’s roadways has advanced out of committee in the Virginia House of Delegates with the help of Delegate R. Lee Ware (R-65th Dist.), who represents part of Fluvanna County.

If passed by the legislature, the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan (House Bill 1695) will promote the creation of a master plan to define and prioritize wildlife corridors and wildlife crossings with the goal of improving road safety across the Commonwealth.

Fluvanna County has plenty of deer meandering across its roads. Captain David Wells of the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office said there were 146 incidents recorded in 2019 where a motor vehicle accident was caused by hitting an animal.

However, he noted that the actual number of incidents may be somewhat higher, since not every collision is reported to law enforcement.

“Each year, Virginians are killed and hundreds of thousands of dollars in vehicle damages occur from collisions with wildlife on our roadways,” Ware said in an email to the Fluvanna Review. “And, of course, tens of thousands of animals are killed by vehicles.”

With about 60,000 accidents a year, Virginia ranks 12th in the nation for wildlife-human collisions. Annually, about 10,000 people are injured and 200 killed. The cost of damages exceeds $500 million.

Wildlife corridors and wildlife crossings create safer pathways for deer and other wildlife to move around their territories without having to interact with roads and developments. They’ve been shown to be an effective tool in reducing accidents — in some cases, by as much as 98 percent.

These corridors could be effective in rural and semi-rural areas like Fluvanna County.

“Deer-vehicle collisions can be just as high, or higher, on low-volume roads as they are on interstates,” said Gabby Saunders of the Wildlands Network, citing a study in Washington state that that found a higher probability of hitting deer on roads with lower traffic rates.

HB 1695, introduced by Delegate David Bulova (D-37th Dist.) of Fairfax County, envisions a more orderly implementation of wildlife corridors by directing the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to collaborate with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation and Recreations to develop a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan which could be used in the development of road and conservation projects.

Ware, who sits on the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee with Bulova, joined the bipartisan effort to advance the bill to the House floor.

If passed by both the House and Senate, Ware says it “complement other, not altogether successful endeavors to mitigate the problem by providing for a coordinated, statewide program for identifying animals’ habitat and routes of travel — to allow us to take these facts into our planning for further roadway construction.”

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