Germany Prepares to Increase Its Number of “Green Bridges”
Enlarge image "Green bridges" allow animals to safely cross large motorways or highways. (© dpa) In an attempt to protect the country’s native wildlife, Germany is continuously building new bridges for animals to safely cross some of its major roadways. Coined “green bridges,” these man-made passageways are strictly off-limits to humans.
The wildlife crossings are covered in vegetation that makes them look like an extension of the land on either side of the road. The eco-friendly passages are “so wide and diverse [that] they appear like an extension of the forest, and animals, the thinking goes, would be less inclined to go galloping across roads … resulting in fewer accidents and a slimmer cleaning bill,” Suzanne LaBarre of Fast Company, which helped publicize the idea, told the Atlantic.
Wildlife crossing bridges are already common in the Netherlands, and some of the most successful models can also be found in the US and Australia. Twelve wildlife bridges alone are located along a 40-mile stretch of one Florida interstate to protect the endangered Florida Panther.
Thirty-five “green bridges” already exist in Germany, but some municipalities are planning to increase the number of wildlife crossings as part of Germany's commitment to protect the environment, reports The Local, an English-language German newspaper. Funding for such projects can came from the government, the EU or private donors, and habitat alterations must also receive federal approval. Germany also has a number of wildlife underpasses – including amphibian tunnels – which provide small animals with the ability to safely cross underneath a highway.
Enlarge image Germany already has several dozen green bridges, but plans to build at least 100 more. (© dpa) Each year, there are about 250,000 registered collisions with wildlife in Germany – not including small animals, according to the ADAC. Some of these collisions kill lynx and wolves, both of which have been making a comeback in Germany but are still a rarity.
Additionally, large roads and canals prevent animals from traveling freely, thereby limiting genetic diversity and thus leading to an increase in death and disease, Gerhard Klesen, a forester at the Ruhr Regional Association, told The Local.
Klesen has long pushed for an animal-only bridge to be constructed over a motorway in the German town of Schermbeck. After ten years of campaigning, he finally received funding from the Netherlands - where such bridges are common -, the EU, and the German government. Construction of the bridge was completed in 2012.
Not all animals immediately recognize the bridges as a safe route to cross a motorway, but Klesen claims many of them catch on after about a year – or in some cases, a few days.
“It usually takes a year before an animal dares to cross the green bridge,” Klesen said. “But one red stag traversed the bridge just three days after it was opened,” and others soon followed suit.
In Schermbeck, the 164-foot-wide bridge is strictly off-limits to humans, punishable by a fine of 35 euros. But shortly after its construction, cameras installed over the bridge revealed that both humans and animals were using the passageway, and it quickly became a safe means of crossing the Autobahn for joggers, mountain bikers, wild boars, deer and other native wildlife.
Germans are currently planning construction of a 230-foot-wide green bridge that crosses over both the A-5 highway and a railroad in Freiburg, and local officials in Schifferstadt are discussing construction of a green bridge over the route A-61. Construction of these bridges can cost millions, but if they succeed in preventing wildlife collisions, they may be able to save both human and animal lives and reduce damage and cleanup costs.