RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In 2021, the state tracked 20,875 wildlife-vehicle collisions. While figures for 2022 are not complete yet, the N.C. Department of Transportation estimates about 7 percent of crashes involve wildlife.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and NCDOT are now focusing on reducing those crashes for the safety of animals and for people.

Both agencies have signed a Memorandum of Understanding showing commitment to work together to improve the infrastructure and safety for wildlife and drivers.

Both agencies share common goals to make highways less hazardous for wildlife and reduce the impact highways have on important habitats. The partnership aims to develop effective and efficient passages for various species of wildlife to reduce highway hazards for motorists and wildlife, while minimizing habitat fragmentation.

Statewide, NCWRC and NCDOT have collaborated to build 26 wildlife crossing structures. These crossings include overpasses, underpasses, and fencing along roads and highways. They’re also working on building another 11 across the state.

“NCDOT is committed to working with our partners to improve North Carolina’s roads for both the safety of the traveling public and wildlife,” NCDOT Chief Engineer Chris Peoples said. “We will continue to work with our partners to examine wildlife-vehicle mortality data, monitor crossing structures, and identify new crossings and mitigation strategies in North Carolina.”

NCDOT numbers show Wake County ranks first in the state for animal collisions. Much of that is due to the fast-paced growth in the area. That growth means new roads where wildlife isn’t accustomed and more vehicles on the road which increase the odds of collisions.

“As more and more people move to North Carolina, the landscape changes with additional development, new roads, additional road lanes, and overall, more vehicles on the highways,” said NCWRC Chief Deputy Director Kyle Briggs. “Unfortunately, the effect on wildlife from those actions often results in habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and increased wildlife-vehicle collisions.”

Federal funding could help the state make progress in its effort to create more wildlife passages.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $350 million for a Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program.

NCWR said the North Carolina General Assembly is considering allocating resources to wildlife passages that could be leveraged to match the available federal funding within the pilot program.