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Second Friday of the month at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pmWhy's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about. Maybe it's a question you've had for years, or maybe it's just come up. Perhaps it rests on a subtle observation, like this one about ABC streets in Kalamazoo. Or maybe you just saw something, found it strange, and wanted to know more about it. That's what happened in "A Tiny Park with a Tragic Story."From train signals to watersheds, from unusual houses to water hardness, we hope you'll let us know what in Southwest Michigan makes you ask "Why's That?" It could be the start of a great radio story.0000017c-60f7-de77-ad7e-f3f73a490000

Why’s That: Why aren’t there any wildlife bridges in Michigan?

Cars speed by bright yellow lawn signs that reads "deer crossing" on Stadium Drive in Oshtemo Townshup.
Leona Larson
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WMUK
Mary Kinney put up "deer crossing" signs in front of her dog kennel on Stadium Drive in Oshtemo Twp. last year to warn drivers that deer frequently cross here.

There’s federal money to build wildlife bridges and crossings here. Is Michigan going to apply?

Mary Kinney owns a dog kennel in Oshtemo Township. Traffic zips by her business on Stadium Drive, where Kinney’s seen her share of deer carcasses.

Bright yellow lawn signs with the warning, ‘deer crossing’ line both sides of the street. Kinney put them up last year, spending more than $200 to warn drivers that deer cross here to bed down in her six wooded acres.

“The woods comes almost down to the road on both sides,” Kinney said. “And if the deer jump out they’re jumping right in front of the car, that the people don't have any warning. So, I thought I'd make the signs up.”

Animal-vehicle accidents prompted Kinney to post signs. It also prompted Why’s That? listener Chaz of Kalamazoo to ask us why there aren’t any wildlife bridges over roads in Southwest Michigan.

As it happens, last year’s big federal infrastructure bill included $350 million to fund wildlife crossing projects in all 50 states. We’ll hear more about what that could mean for Michigan. But first, what is a wildlife bridge?

Jim Dexter is the fisheries chief at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Picture a, you know, like a pedestrian bridge over a highway,” he said — only wider, and covered with vegetation, grass and trees. Wildlife bridges are one type of crossing; tunnels and culverts under roads are another. All allow animals to cross human-made barriers safely.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Michigan is 4th in the country for fatal motor vehicle crashes involving animals. It’s one of the many reasons why Marc Smith supports wildlife crossings. He’s from the Great Lakes Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation in Ann Arbor.

A dead deer lies in the green grass by a street light along Stadium Drive near U.S. 131.  The doe had been hit by a car and lies with her head over the curb and on the side of the road. A green soda can is tucked under the deer's ear.
Leona Larson
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MNUK
Dead deer on the side of the road isn't an uncommon sight in Michigan, particularly during the fall deer rutting or mating season. Michigan ranks 4th in the country in vehicle crash fatalities involving a live animal. Photo: Stadium Drive near U.S. 131 northbound exit ramp, Nov. 3, 2022.

“If you put in targeted areas, bridges or culverts, depending on what type of species you're targeting, they can reduce up to 90% of any collisions. And that saves lives.”

It saves money too. Nationally, property damage and health care expenses from animal-vehicle accidents cost taxpayers $10 billion a year. That’s according to a February NPR report.

But will Michigan take advantage of the infrastructure bill’s pot of money for wildlife crossings?

Jim Dexter of the MDNR’s fisheries division said he certainly hopes so. He said Michigan could use the federal funds to replace and repair crumbling culverts. That could help turtles, salamanders and snakes, but they’re especially important for fish. Not an animal you’ll likely meet on the road, but they still need to go from point A to point B to spawn.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Dexter, “because there is just so much money that's out there that's available and we want to be positioned as best as we can to take advantage of that."

The Michigan Department of Transportation is another potential applicant. But the agency may not apply. In an email, spokesman Jeff Cranson said MDOT has nothing in the works that would “justify” asking for a grant right now.

It may have worthy projects in the future. In MDOT’s Bay Region, a resource specialist has been studying animal crossing data for most of a year, noting where carcasses are found and using that to map animal habits. The purpose? To work with MDNR on wildlife modeling that includes wildlife crossings at freeways. But it’s unlikely this project will be done in time to apply for money from the infrastructure bill.

In Michigan, all kinds of wildlife get hit on the roads, including turkeys, bobcats, squirrels, bears and raccoons. Salamanders are frequent victims, according to the MDNR. But deer may be the most notorious. There are more than 50,000 deer-related crashes each year in Michigan according to the Michigan State Police. Almost 1,500 people were injured in 2021, and 10 died. But it’s not clear if wildlife bridges can solve the problem, or at least not all of it. Jarrod Duquette is the chief of MDNR’s wildlife division.

“They could work, but because white-tail deer are so ubiquitous, you know, you would have to put bridges just absolutely everywhere.”

That may leave people like Mary Kinney to attempt their own solutions. She’s the Oshtemo business owner who put up her own deer crossing signs on Stadium Drive.

“Knock on wood, there haven't been any hits since the signs have been up, not right in front of here," she said.

Leona Larson (Gould-McElhone) was a complaint investigator with the Detroit Consumer Affairs Department when she started producing and co-hosting Consumer Conversation with Esther Shapiro for WXYT-Radio in Detroit while freelancing at The Detroit News and other local newspapers. Leona joined WDIV-TV in Detroit as a special project's producer and later, as an investigative producer. Today, she splits her time as a general assignment reporter at WMUK and a part-time journalism instructor for the School of Communications at Western Michigan University. Leona prefers to use her middle name on air because it's shorter and easier to pronounce.