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National News Roundup – April 25, 2023

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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Feds Seek to Curtail Vehicle-Wildlife Crashes

US Department of Transportation researching approaches in pilot program.

Collisions between motor vehicles and large wildlife are a serious and costly problem across the country.

An estimated one- to two-million crashes between motor vehicles and large animals such as deer occur every year in the U.S., causing approximately 200 human deaths, 26,000 injuries, and at least $8 billion in property damage and other costs. Deer are the animals most often involved in vehicle collisions.

In largely rural states such as Wyoming, wildlife-vehicle crashes represent almost 20% of all reported collisions. Michigan ranks fifth among the top 20 states for risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions. In 2021, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 50,000 crashes between a vehicle and a deer occurred across here, according to the Michigan State Police.

To combat the deadly problem, the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched a $350 million Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program to reduce the hazard. Funding will be spread across five years and includes $111 million this year for state and local governments to research safety innovations and mapping/tracking tools and to design and construct overpasses and underpasses for wildlife, among other activities.

“There are proven practices to prevent crashes between vehicles and wildlife, and with this investment, we’re going to take commonsense steps to reduce collisions and make roads safer for rural and urban communities alike,” Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said in a statement.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, designated wildlife crossings reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 90 percent when they are properly sited and designed.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Transportation, Michigan State Police, Pew Charitable Trusts, Smart Cities Dive)

Wildfires Rampant in States Across Northeast

Changes in weather patterns cited as one reason for the increasing risk.

Some people think wildfires are strictly a West Coast problem. Those people are wrong. The New England states are getting clobbered by raging wildfires, too.

Earlier this month a rapidly spreading wildfire in southern New Jersey spread across 3,859 acres in one day. Since the start of the year there have been 315 wildfires in New Jersey, according to that state’s Forest Fire Service.

New Jersey is not alone. Rain is falling heavier and within shorter periods of time due to climate change, according to many experts. This means potentially longer dry spells amid rising temperatures. Classic New England winters are also on the decline, with parts of the region seeing far less snow.
In 2020, Maine saw a record-breaking year for wildfires. Last May, a brush fire in western Massachusetts became the largest wildland fire the state has seen in more than two decades.

“It’s real,” said Jeff Currier, regional forest ranger for the Maine Forest Service. “We’re at this crossroads with weather, the volunteer firefighter shortage, and more people in the state.”

According to the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit climate research group, costs associated with wildfires have accelerated faster than any other climate hazard since 1990 – growing from $1 billion per year in the ’90s to $16.6 billion in 2020.

In a 2019 doctoral dissertation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst examining wildfire risk in the Northeast, a post-graduate student noted: “Interestingly, these increases in regional fire risk are present regardless of increases in precipitation, indicating that future fire risk in the [Northeastern United States] is driven largely by changes in temperature as opposed to precipitation.”

Fire professionals in Vermont, meanwhile, are worried about the future. The northeastern part of Vermont will become a focus in terms of wildfire risk as the climate changes because the area has more softwood conifers, said Dan Dillner, a protection forester and fire response coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

(Sources: Providence Journal, Asbury Park Press, CBS News, WABC-TV News)

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The above news items are provided for informational purposes and are not intended to reflect MMRMA opinions, coverage, or risk management recommendations.

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