Sunday, May 20, 2012

Caution: Frog Crossing Ahead

by Madeleine Kando

During my latest visit to the Netherlands, as I was driving on a small but busy road to one of the many beaches, I saw an attention-grabbing sign warning drivers of frogs crossing the road. ‘They must have forgotten to post the ant crossing sign’, I said to my Dutch co-passenger, convinced that the sign was meant as a joke. But he explained to me that this was toad breeding season. I knew he was right because two weeks later, the sign was gone. This led me to wonder why we don’t do a better job protecting our local wildlife back in the US. I know, Americans are used to 'road kill'. This is a BIG country with a lot of space, a lot of roads and a lot more wildlife than in Holland. But wouldn’t that be all the more reason to design, implement and maintain our road infrastructure in a more intelligent way?

The Case of the Canada Geese

Where I live, in New England, Canada Geese are as much a fixture of the scenery as the grey squirrel, the mallard duck and the blackbird. During the spring months it is common to see mom, dad and a slew of goslings waddle slowly across the asphalt, their heads held high, stopping all traffic as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Contrary to what people think, these resident geese are not the ones that stopped migrating and decided to stay here. They are the descendants of caged geese let loose in the forests of Western Massachusetts. It seems that there are over one million resident geese in the ‘Atlantic Flyway’ (the migration route along the Atlantic Coast of North America). Even though they are different from the migratory kind, they don’t really belong here. You can tell by their muscular bodies and their huge wing span. They are made to fly to the tundra's of Alaska or the Everglades of Florida. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour at an altitude of 8000 feet. They are not meant to waddle across the busy highways around Boston. At this time of year I often see the remains of their large bodies mangled to a bloody pulp on the side of the road. Should we accept this as an unavoidable by-product of civilization clashing with wildlife? Is there an unspoken assumption that if an animal gets run over, it wasn't smart enough, fast enough or strong enough and it shouldn't pass on its genes to their offspring?

Eco-Bridge in the Netherlands
The Impact of Roads on Wildlife

There are four million miles of roads in the US. The impact of roads on wildlife is enormous with over one million animals getting killed every day on highways. Some species of animals simply refuse to cross barriers as wide as a road and for these species a road effectively cuts their population in half. It disrupts connectivity between breeding grounds, which causes 'fragmentation' and eventually leads to a species dying out. One solution is to create 'habitat corridors' between disconnected areas. Holland (and Europe in general) is more advanced when it comes to mitigating the impact of roads on wildlife. The Dutch have many ‘wildlife crossings’ to try to prevent 'fragmentation' of natural habitats. The Nature Bridge Zanderij in Holland's Veluwe nature reserve, is the largest eco-bridge in the world, spanning railroad tracks, a four-lane highway and a sports park. It is 2400 feet long and 150 feet wide and cost 14 million euro's to build. That, in a country the size of Massachusetts.

The European Green Belt

It used to go by the name of 'The Iron Curtain', the impassable border dividing Communist Europe from the West. The European Green Belt idea began when Kai Frobel. a bird enthusiast who lived in a town on the border of East and West Germany, noticed that the No Man’s land of the Iron Curtain had become a de-facto wildlife preserve. It stretches from the northern tip of Norway all the way down to Greece, a length of 8,400 km. For the past 60 years, this land was only accessible to boarder guards with kalashnikovs, which turned it into a perfectly protected habitat, although certain sections, like the border between Russia and Finland, are still heavily fenced and, to some extent, hinders the migration of large mammals. The plan is to create a 'green corridor' that spans the entire length of Europe. It is truly a multi-national initiative and requires the cooperation between 23 nations.

Ontario's Green Belt

Ontario's Greenbelt is a permanently protected area of green space, farmland, forests, wetlands, and watersheds, located in Southern Ontario, Canada. It surrounds Canada's most populated and fastest-growing area—the Golden Horseshoe, around lake Ontario. Even though it also includes agricultural land, Ontario's Green belt protects 1.8 million acres of countryside. There is a long corridor that stretches from the Niagara Falls area to Tobermory on Georgian Bay.


This essay started with frogs and ended with Green Belts the size of a small state. The implementation of Green Belts will not help the Canada geese in my neck of the woods. Therefore the importance of wildlife crossings such as overpasses, underpasses and crosswalks can not be emphasized enough. If a country like Holland can protect frogs, if it can build a 2800 meter eco-bridge and raise awareness in the general population, why cannot we do the same and save some of the millions of creatures that get killed every day on the highways? That number doesn't include all the animals that crawl off the road and die as a result of their injuries. Even a simple 'goose crossing' sign or lowering the speed limit on the road to my health club would be an improvement. But until someone really gets hurt in a collision with one of these majestic birds, I doubt anything will change. leave comment here