High lake forcing wildlife to higher ground
Wildlife mortality on the Long Point Causeway is a concern once more thanks to record-high water levels in Lake Erie.
High water coupled with lake surges into the Big Creek Marsh have damaged barrier fencing installed along the causeway several years ago.
As a result, wildlife that was prevented from climbing onto the 3.2-kilometre stretch of road is back on the pavement and getting hit by vehicles travelling between Port Rowan and Long Point.
The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation spent $2.5 million in recent years installing barrier fencing and 12 eco-passages under the causeway. The goal was to give wildlife migrating between the Big Creek Marsh and Long Point Bay alternative pathways away from traffic.
In a news release, Rick Levick, president of the biosphere foundation, said the days ahead will be crucial as snakes and turtles stir from hibernation and seek nesting sites in the Long Point area.
Levick asks motorists to slow down and proceed with caution. Motorists are also asked to help slow-moving animals such as turtles get off the road where it is safe to do so. A sturdy shovel, he said, is ideal for this purpose.
“The cool spring weather has somewhat delayed wildlife movement, including female turtles searching for nesting sites,” Levick said.
“But as the weather warms, animals will start moving en masse to their preferred summer locations.”
Levick noted that wildlife between Port Rowan and Long Point has been acting strangely in response to the high water.
Motorists have seen dozens of muskrats loafing on the shoulders of the causeway due to the flooding of their habitat. Several have been struck and killed in recent weeks.
“We’ve struggled to keep the fencing in good repair since the last two culverts were installed in 2017 but there’s a limit to what a volunteer organization can manage and afford,” Levick said.
“That’s why we are pleased that Norfolk County has committed to maintaining the culverts and fencing after the causeway reconstruction is completed in 2020-21.”
In a separate but related development, the bridge on the causeway at George Lane has been a headache for Norfolk County since it began to fall apart last spring.
A temporary rig-mat repair re-opened the bridge to two-way traffic last year but the bridge recently reverted to a single lane controlled by a traffic light.
This will slow traffic, which will help now that increasing numbers of animals are again crossing over top.
Jason Godby, Norfolk’s director of public works administration, said last week the bridge situation is due to recent work undertaken as “a preventive maintenance activity.”
“Some of the existing wood on the rig-mat is being replaced in an effort to ensure this temporary structure remains in a safe condition until such time that a new bridge is constructed,” Godby said.
Conservationists are especially concerned about wildlife mortality on the Long Point Causeway because the numbers have traditionally been high and involve a number of species-at-risk. Especially concerning is road mortality involving turtles.
Female turtles take many years to reach reproductive maturity. The death of even one female turtle represents the potential loss of hundreds of turtles in the future. These deaths are also a blow to the genetic diversity of rare populations.