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Virginia legislators pass bill to expand protection of wildlife corridors

An owl at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
An owl at the Wildlife Center of Virginia.(WHSV)
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 7:49 PM EST
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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - Virginia legislators passed a bill this week that takes an extra step to protect the state’s wildlife and its drivers.

A bill that was passed in last year’s legislative session directed the commonwealth to create a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan that identifies areas where collisions with animals are high.

The new bill makes it so agencies, like the departments of conservation and recreation, transportation, and the state forester, are incorporating that data into their plans.

The corridor plan is expected to be released this fall, but Ed Clark, the president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, says the Shenandoah National Park is one area of the valley that could use some attention.

“As animals need to leave the park to [get to] other areas of habitat, say Massanutten Mountain, which is National Forest land, they’ve got to cross the Page Valley or come out into the Shenandoah Valley to get from one area to the other, and that puts them in great peril,” Clark said.

But there are plenty more areas across the state that could benefit from this legislation as well.

“They’re not spread evenly around the state. There are corridors that follow stream beds, as an example, or valleys that naturally funnel the movement of these animals, and those are the places where the animals are most likely encountering automobiles,” Clark said.

More than 60,000 deer-related crashes happen each year across the state, and the Wildlife Center said crashes are the most frequent cause of injury for animals that are checked in there.

Clark said there are other animals that are endangered and rare in Virginia, like turtles, salamanders and birds, that make this not only a safety issue, but a conservation issue as well.

Recommendations to address these issues could include putting a road between a river and a pond.

“During the breeding season is an important corridor for reptiles or amphibians. Turtles are one of the biggest problems that we have with the box turtle... is being hit by cars,” Clark said.

It could also include creating areas without a curb, and in some cases the construction of underpasses to allow animals an option to get from one side of the highway to another without crossing traffic.

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