Road Kill and Wildlife Crossings

//Road Kill and Wildlife Crossings

Road Kill and Wildlife Crossings

Wildlife Crossing Sign in Canada

Wildlife Crossing Sign in Canada - ┬ęgripso_banana_prune/Flickr CC

It’s estimated that 400 million animals die each year on roads in the United States, struck by vehicles. It’s impossible to know precise numbers, particularly since mortally wounded animals will crawl away from road shoulders (where the dead can be counted). That 400 million figure is extrapolated from various local surveys and collision statistics.

A Road Kill Diary

This topic is on my mind because of a Photostream I came upon at Flickr this morning. Jon Sullivan, a photographer in New Zealand, has a short, pictorial tally of dead animals he’s found along New Zealand roads. It’s a gruesome subject. But it’s also a poignant diary showing just a fraction of the carnage that’s heaped alongside the world’s byways . It’s the death often brushed aside as “road kill” — a significant contribution to animal suffering and population reduction, especially among threatened species. Car-animal collisions are also a source of human injury. The U.S. Department of Transportation says more than 200 people die each year in accidents involving animals.

Not All Roads Are Created Equal

In the Winter 2004 issue of Conservation, David Havlick published a piece on road kill “hotspots” using Florida as a case study. Not surprisingly, road ecologists discovered that more animals were killed on roads that bisected important habitat and migration corridors. It’s a problem known as habitat fragmentation, where roads and roadside development essentially split historical wildlife terrain, forcing animals onto human thoroughfares — to get where they are going. Computer models effectively predicted where these crossings were most likely to occur in Florida. Transportation officials then began constructing passageways in these areas to help animals link more safely to their natural corridors.

Building Wildlife Crossings

The planned wildlife crossing is a relatively new consideration in transportation, but one that’s being implemented to good effect around the world. The U.S. Department of Transportation has a table of contents showing the various types of wildlife crossings being built, including ideas as diverse as large-mammal passages, tortoise underpasses, and amphibian-and-reptile culverts.

Wildlife crossing in Banff

Wildlife Crossing Between Banff and Lake Louise - ┬ęSangudo/Flickr CC

These solutions work. On one section of the Trans-Canada Highway, for instance, an erected fence reduced ungulate deaths (hooved animals) by 96 percent (USDOT). In Florida, a bear-friendly underpass proved appealing for at least twelve other species that now use the passage, in addition to the targeted black bears. In San Bernardino County (Southern California), fences guiding desert tortoises to culverts, reduced tortoise deaths by 93 percent on that section of Route 58.

Engineering a perfect wildlife crossing is complex in terms of getting animals to actually use the crossing — and taking into account predators and other dangers inherent in the crossing itself. It’s an evolving endeavor.

Turtle Crossing Culvert - Photo Courtesy of Caltrans

A comprehensive plan for wildlife crossings has been a long time in coming. If you drive roads like Highway 1 along the Sonoma Coast with any regularity, you know that such habitat realignment is much needed along many of our most traveled corridors. On one trip to Mendocino, we stopped every few miles to allow the passage of deer with fawns, bobcats, opossums, birds and other wild animals simply trying to navigate the treacherous two-lane speedway.

Avoiding Road Kill: What Drivers Can Do

In an earlier post on secondary road kill, I mentioned an article on Road Kill Avoidance Tips. The best thing any one of us can do ecologically speaking, is reduce our reliance on cars. Ironically, that’s tougher to do in rural areas where many of the road kill hot spots occur. When in the car, however, there are things you can do to reduce the probability of hitting an animal. The most significant measure is to slow down. Always drive at speed limit, or even below, if conditions warrant. Avoid driving at dawn and dusk, when animal activity is at its highest. Know the seasons as they pertain to animals. Spring brings fawns and animals just getting their bearings around human technology. In Road Kill Avoidance Tips, Merritt Clifton takes the advice a bit further by explaining how different species react when on the road. Understanding species behavior can help you adjust for the unexpected when an animal crosses your path.

Stopping for Injured Animals

As difficult or inconvenient as it may be to stop for an injured animal, H. and I try — where stopping doesn’t endanger us or other drivers. There are obviously places where it’s impossible to pull over in a car — or leap into traffic to wrangle a deer. Or attempt a transport if you’re on foot or bike. So any rescue effort takes into consideration a lot of factors, including human safety, the probability of further injuring the animal or scaring it back into the road, and also the type of animal in question. Only qualified individuals should attempt to handle a rabies-vector species, for instance (bat, skunk). An adult deer can kill you, writhing in panic, so wildlife personnel should be called in those instances.

If you find any injured animal and are not comfortable handling it, at least give the local animal control a call. I realize not everyone carries a list of wildlife rescue facilities in their car, but it’s something I’ve gotten in the habit of doing. Animals that languish with automobile injuries can sometimes be transported and rehabilitated by a qualified person. It’s really my only solace when faced with the countless dead animals I see along any stretch of road — to know that when I could, I helped.

(I posted these general What to do with injured wildlife guidelines when I worked at About.com. It includes a list of Bay Area wildlife hospitals as well.)

Related post: Avoiding Secondary Road Kill

By | 2010-03-05T13:40:13+00:00 March 5th, 2010|Blog, Wildlife Solutions|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Tovar Cerulli March 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

    A great and important post, Ingrid.

    Road kill can be really heart-wrenching. My wife and I had a “vehicular experience” with a deer back in December, prompting me to write a related blog post in January called “Kinds of harm” (I think you showed up in my little corner of the blogosphere a month or so later).

  2. ingrid March 6, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks, Tovar. You know, the road kill topic is almost too difficult for me to broach at times. I’ve only written about it once before in this blog, the short bit about secondary roadkill and how to help carrion eaters. I never go anywhere without my camera and, still, I just haven’t been able to take photos of the animals slain by cars. It’s such a waste of life and photographing the end result has always felt gratuitous to me.

    With that said, I do appreciate others who have documented the scenes, to bring some visceral component to these otherwise anonymous deaths. I’m encouraged by the interest in wildlife crossings and I keep hoping that some form of effective technology evolves to compensate for the harm done by our car technology. I know deer whistles exist, but I’ve heard they don’t work. Haven’t tried them myself. Is it too outlandish to hope for some kind of miracle fix for this widespread problem? I can relate. I’ve lost sleep over seeing an animal hit by a car that didn’t even attempt to stop . . . foraging through the scrub until late with flashlights, trying to find him or her.

    Oh, and for anyone who’s interested, here’s a link to Tovar’s piece, “Kinds of Harm”: http://www.tovarcerulli.com/2010/01/kinds-of-harm

  3. Tovar Cerulli March 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    There definitely does seem to be increased interest in wildlife crossings, including various types of amphibian-reptile culverts as you mentioned: important, especially when salamanders and turtles are on the move during mating and egg-laying seasons.

    (And thanks for the posting the link!)

  4. Kris Duttry March 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    The wildlife slaughter here in Central Florida goes on and on, and it’s simply heartbreaking. The terrible unfairness of all this is, as we tear out more woods and replace it with pavement and lawn, these animals have less and less to eat. Desperation and starvation drive them to cross roads, to encounter further suffering when they’re hit by cars. And nobody mentions a basic preventative—High beams! Put your lights up!

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