Road Ecology : an Emerging Concept

Jean-François Dubois

Practiced for decades in Europe, road ecology calls upon the innovation of roadway engineers to integrate environmental factors at the planning stage.

As we know, roads are at the heart of a country's economy. A lack of roads signifies no commuter travel and no transportation of goods. More often than not, roadways are developed first and foremost with the emphasis on cost control and this at the detriment of the environment. With the growth in population and the increase in the number of roads, now is the time to stop and reflect on how we utilize our land so as to maintain a balance between nature and man.

Many areas of our planet are presently confronted with problems of road safety due to animals crossing the roadways. Many regions of Quebec are faced with a relatively serious problem of collisions with large wildlife (deer, moose, etc.) Take the case, for example, of highways 169 and 175 which cross the Laurentian wildlife reserve, in Quebec. Numerous collisions involving moose are recorded each year. This constitutes a major safety problem given that a collision with a moose often results in serious wounds to the vehicle's occupants, sometimes even death. An investigation into the problem concluded that salt applied to the roads during the winter months actually attracted the moose onto the road. As a diversionary tactic, artificial salt ponds were created to lure the animals away from the roadbed. Other regions of Quebec also have difficulties regarding cohabitation with large wildlife such as the Eastern Townships region where the greatest concentration of Virginia deer (white-tailed deer) is found. Although less serious, accidents involving Virginia deer are so frequent and widespread throughout the territory that finding an effective solution has been a challenge in itself. While collisions with wildlife represent the most tangible of environmental effects, there exists numerable other environmental matters that are being affected by man's activities.

Deterioration of natural habitats and their related species is becoming more and more of a concern for those involved. For that reason, the inaugural meeting of the Northeast Transportation and Wildlife Conference held in Vermont last September 13 and 14 gathered no less than one hundred individuals involved in the fields of transportation, the environment, the protection of the environment and the protection of wildlife. The participants, representing every state in the North-Eastern United States, as well as from Quebec and Ontario, exchanged on past endeavors but especially on future objectives in terms of deployment of mitigation devices on the existing roads and future projects. It was concluded that a regional strategy for dialogue, education and dissemination of information be set up in order to promote social and political will with the purpose of integrating a "culture of ecology" at all levels of decision-making and road project planning.

At the present time, and taking into account the economic context that one finds in Quebec, it might seem superfluous to invest in mitigation regarding the welfare of the environment but it is of primary importance for those involved in the field to try to clear the haze and show the population that the return on investment, in term of safety and social economy, is worth the effort.

This article is meant as an overview of the principles and risks regarding this emerging concept known as road ecology. Beyond the ideology, road ecology is determined by at times simple, at times surprising but undoubtedly ingenious strategies which deserve more attention. This is why, in a forthcoming article, I will describe the various strategies which allow for a better integration of man's expansion into nature.


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