Author Archives | Trisha White

Endangered Species on the Bus?

Endangered Species on the Bus?

Photo of one of the "Endanger Buses" in San FranciscoSide view of an "Endanger Bus" in San Francisco

Do you mind sharing your seat with a brown pelican?  Don’t worry, you won’t have to.  These endangered species are on the outside of the bus.  Endangered Species is an art project on San Francisco’s public buses. Images of endangered species are wrapped around the buses with information about the species on the back of the bus.

The project was the idea of artist Todd Gilens, inspired by the visual elements of everyday urban life.  “Buses are so assaulted by advertising, it’s as if our transit system is not our own. But whose environment is it? How can we best look after the places we live?” questioned Gilens.  “Public transit is about pooling and sharing resources. Bringing the bus together with local ecosystems and vulnerable animal species was a natural fit once I started to think about it that way.”

The Endangerbuses will be prowling the streets of San Francisco from January to April 2011, dispatched to different routes each day.  You can follow the Endangerbus adventure on Twitter at #endangerbus.  If you visit or live in the San Francisco area, post your pictures on Flickr tagged with endangerbus.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife2 Comments

Painting of Gradma's house

To Grandmother’s Condo We Go?

“Over the river and through the woodsPainting of Gradma's house

To Grandmother’s house we go.

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow. Oh!”

This classic winter song belies our traditional demographics and settlement pattern wherein young families live in urban centers and make holiday visits to their aging parents and grandparents living in the country.

Today, those demographics are generally turned on their head.  Young families – in search of the American dream and drawn by decades of cheap houses, cheap gas and ubiquitous roads – typically settle in the suburbs and exurbs.  Cheap land allowed rampant development to push well over the river and clear cut the woods to make way for subdivisions and big box retail.

This unbridled development has wreaked havoc on our natural resources and consumed habitat at an alarming rate.  The National Resources Inventory estimates that we have now developed more than 111 million acres, and 40 million of those acres were developed between 1982 and 2007.  That means more than one-third of all land that has ever been developed in the lower 48 states was developed during the last 25 years.  That is an increase of 56 percent in just the time that MTV has been on the air.

Unbridled development is the evil stepchild of rampant road building.  Driving has grown by three times the rate of population growth over the past 15 years and is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2030. Not because driving is an American pastime, but because communities are built and not planned, leaving people with no other option but to drive everywhere. Those multi-lane highways make it possible for people to commute to well-paying jobs from further and further away where houses and yards are bigger and bigger.  More people move there, creating more pressure for more housing.  More people mean more cars. More cars mean more traffic. Traffic worsens, creating more pressure for more lanes.  Rather than solving the problem, more lanes attract yet more people, causing yet more congestion in what is called “induced traffic,” and the cycle continues.

Meanwhile, Grandmother has had enough. She has long since lost her small town and is moving back through the woods, to the other side of the river, back to the city.  Grandmother’s house is now more likely Grandmother’s condo.  Empty nesters are flocking back to urban centers where they can enjoy easy access to the culture, open spaces, a sense of community and the many services of the city in a walkable setting.  Baby boomers are giving up their station wagons for bicycles and leaving traffic behind for the comfort of transit.

In response to this new trend, many cities, like New York City are making efforts to become more “age-friendly.”  According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and age-friendly city is “an inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active ageing.”  WHO statistics show the global proportion of people aged 60 and over will double from 11 percent in 2006 to 22 percent by 2050.  For the first time in history, there will be more older people than children.  By 2030, the number of New Yorkers age 65 and over — a result of the baby boomers, diminished fertility and increasing longevity — is expected to reach 1.35 million, up 44 percent from 2000.  Cities have the economic and social resources to become more age-friendly and are better equipped to undertake the necessary changes for a changing society.

Maybe more people should follow Grandma’s lead.  Cities are better equipped to serve the needs of people of all ages in the most efficient, environmentally friendly way. Denser development means we leave more wild areas wild and more natural resources available to provide services like clean air and water.  As of 2007, over half of the global population now lives in cities. By 2030, about three out of every five people in the world will live in cities.

So before you move “over the river and through the woods,” remember Grandma’s wisdom.  If we want to keep healthy, functioning rivers and woods, we need fewer people moving there.

Posted in Energy, Fossil Fuels0 Comments

photo of what the wildlife crossing at I-70 might look like

A new design for Nature?

photo of what the wildlife crossing at I-70 might look like

One finalist's design for the I-70 wildlife crossing

Earlier this week, the ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition unveiled the five finalist designs for a next generation wildlife crossing, to be built at West Vail Pass on I-70 in Colorado.  This first-ever international competition asked designers from all over the world to imagine solutions to the age-old problem of moving wildlife across the landscape while keeping them out of harm’s way on our highways.

Five finalists were chosen from 36 team submissions from nine countries, representing more than 100 firms worldwide.  The finalists showed great innovation and creativity, including the use of an inverted arc shape that creates a valley floating above the highway.  One design team chose laminated timber for building material, rather than concrete and steel.  Another design incorporates a bright red bridge to attract the interest of drivers as they pass under, yet remain unremarkable to color-blind mammals as they pass over.

“Collectively, the designs have the capacity to transform what we think of as possible,” said Jane Wernick, ARC juror and structural engineer, director of Jane Wernick Associates, London.

The five designs are now available for public viewing at The winning design team will be announced at the Transportation Research Board 90th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on January 23, 2011.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife, Northern Rockies0 Comments

Photo of zebras for the National Geographic series called Great Migrations

Great migrations threatened by Tanzanian highway

Photo of zebras for the National Geographic series called Great MigrationsNational Geographic has once again captured our imagination with Great Migrations, a seven-part series that takes viewers along on the arduous journeys millions of animals undertake to ensure the survival of their species. Viewers are mesmerized with images shot from the air to underwater and enraptured with the powerful stories of our planet’s species and the great migrations they embark upon to find food, shelter and mates.

A major part of the huge wildlife migrations through Tanzania and Kenya occurs within the Serengeti National Park, and is considered the greatest natural wonder of the world.  Millions of wildebeest, zebras, elephants, rhinos, gazelles, and predators like cheetahs and lions teem across the landscape as far as the eye can see; instinctively following paths established over thousands of years of evolution.

This May, the Tanzanian government announced plans to build a 300 mile east-west highway through the northern part of the park, slated for construction in 2012.  Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete believes the $480 million project would improve transportation and boost economic activity by linking two of its key towns — Arusha, near Kilimanjaro and Musoma on Lake Victoria.  However, Kenya is opposed to the Serengeti road project, saying it would affect the annual wildebeest migration, a key tourist attraction.  More than 100,000 tourists visit the Maasai Mara during the migration months between July and October and any interruption is likely to hurt Kenya’s economy.

“Wildebeest have a problem crossing roads which have heavy human and vehicle traffic, there is nothing elsewhere in the Serengeti with this high capacity for traffic,” said Mr Gideon Gathaara, a Kenyan Ministry of Wildlife official.

Scientists are saying that a road like this could lead to the collapse of the Serengeti ecosystem, as well as a collapse of tourism in the region. Though the proposed road would be gravel, the presence of increased traffic would disrupt wildlife to the point of their avoidance of the area, would lead to roadkill especially at night, would be even more damaging to wildlife by being fenced, and would most likely result in paving the road in the future.  Several conservation experts have publicly condemned the plan, as has the United Nations World Heritage Committee.

Internationally known wildlife biologist Richard Estes said the price of a road through the Serengeti is too high: “There’s not only the hazards of animals being killed by vehicles, which is serious, but more dangerous is the unplanned development that will follow — the building of towns and strip development — which is increasing human influence and access. The poaching is already serious and this will make it a whole lot easier.”

Wildlife conservationists and advocates are anxiously awaiting the results of Tanzania’s feasibility study, due out in January 2011. Can we save the Serengeti or will this great migration be relegated to the pages of history?

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments

Photo of deer crossing a road

Is America on a crash course with wildlife?

Photo of deer crossing a roadEvery year, State Farm releases their top ten worst states for deer vehicle collisions.  The 2010 list held no surprises with West Virginia in the number one slot for the fourth year in a row. Drivers in West Virginia face a 1 in 42 chance of hitting a deer sometime in the next 12 months.  The list is perennially dominated by Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Montana, Pennsylvania and Arkansas – also states with abundant white tail deer – are also there.

America has had a long standing love affair with cars. Ninety five percent of American households have at least one car and we spend about 20 percent of our income on transportation. We’ve built more than four million miles of roads, providing us with unprecedented access and mobility.  But our mobility comes with a price, for both people and wildlife.  Wildlife vehicle collisions claim the lives of 200 Americans and result in 29,000 human injuries every year. Recent estimates indicate between 725,000 and 1,500,000 animals are struck on our roads annually and when we include smaller species such as amphibians and reptiles, the body count goes up to a million vertebrates a day.

Roadkill is nothing new, but statistics show the numbers are increasing dramatically. While the number of auto accidents has remained steady, the number of wildlife vehicle collisions has increased by 50 percent over the last decade. The miles traveled by U.S. motorists increased just two percent in five years, but the number of deer vehicle collisions jumped 20 percent in that same time period. Wildlife-vehicle collisions now represent one out of every 20 reported motor vehicle collisions, and they occur every 26 seconds.

Wildlife vehicle collisions put a dent in our wallets too.  The average property damage cost of each accident is $3,103.  When you add in the loss of work and medical costs, those numbers rise even higher.  The Western Transportation Institute estimated a collision with a deer costs an average $7890, while an elk hit costs $17,100 and a moose hit costs a whopping $28,100.  Add to that the costs of law enforcement, emergency services, road maintenance crews and wildlife management personnel and the total annual cost associated with wildlife vehicle collisions is nearly $8.4 billion.

Are wildlife vehicle collisions a necessary evil?  As long as there are cars on the road, we may never completely eliminate accidents, but we can take measures to reduce the frequency and severity.  Just like many of our roads now include guard rails to prevent cars from veering off, we can include structures to allow wildlife to move safely across the landscape without endangering passing motorists.  Wildlife underpasses and overpasses allow animals to get where they need to go by passing under or over highways without entering the right of way.  Some transportation agencies have begun building wildlife crossings but we have a long way to go before it is standard practice.

Congress can help state transportation agencies make that transition by adding wildlife-friendly provisions in the upcoming highway bill reauthorization. With the midterm elections behind us, many believe the highway bill is one of the few bipartisan efforts with a chance for success in a contentious Congress.  As luck would have it, two of the State Farm top ten states have congressional delegates in key positions on the committees in charge of reauthorizing the highway bill.  Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Environment and Public Works committee and Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV-3rd) is expected to claim the ranking member position on the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  They have a tremendous opportunity to help their states and American motorists across the country by instituting policy changes to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions and avert a crash course with wildlife.

Posted in Imperiled Wildlife0 Comments

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.