Thursday, October 22, 2009

Contradictions in Concrete

Most humans like animals. Some love animals. A few hate them, just as they hate everything and everybody in their lives. Except for the latter group, humans are compelled to aid an animal in need. Thus, the news stories about burly construction workers who toil for hours to rescue a baby moose caught in wet concrete; firemen who risks their lives to save a dog trapped in an icy lake; bystanders who dive into a reservoir's freezing water to rescue a drowning fawn. Whole organizations exist to help abandoned or mistreated animals, or to save entire groups of animals from extinction. And yet....

And yet, despite these kindly instincts, and actions taken as individuals, human institutions continue to make decisions regarding the construction of roads and highways that lead, invariably, to the deaths of countless wild and domestic animals, and, in many instances, to injury or death for their own kind. Take, for example, the recent decisions to use miles and miles and miles of Jersey barriers--concrete medians that separate automobile traffic traveling in opposite directions.

Next time you are on a highway and can safely do so, notice how a Jersey barrier is constructed: five to six feet tall, wide at the bottom and narrower at the top, smooth and solid concrete, located in the direct center of opposing lanes of traffic. They form a deadly obstacle to any animal fortunate enough to get from the greenspace on the side of the road to the barrier alive. Once there, the Jersey barrier is impenatrable and insurmountable to groundhogs, skunks, oppossum, chipmunks, and other ground-dwelling animals. They have no choice but to scout along the bottom of the barrier for an opening that will never appear, or to return to the side of the road from which they came. Most will not make it.

As for deer, the barriers are just as deadly, for they limit visibility of traffic on the other side. Deer can jump the barrier, but they are as likely as not to jump into the path of a tractor trailer, van, or automobile. Such a collision is unlikely to harm the driver of a tractor trailer physically, but could prove deadly for occupants of smaller automobiles and any vehicles involved in a resulting chain-reaction accident.

I remain convinced that most humans would much rather not harm animals, and that they are as saddened and depressed by the sight of tiny corpses along the road has she is when we take a trip.
Perhaps humans need to include individuals in their road planning groups who are not focused solely on the engineering or human safety aspects of a highway project. Humans need to give voice to their humane side, and not just quietly acquiesce to their contradictions in concrete.

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