Thanks to the coronavirus, there’s a lot less roadkill on the nation’s highways

  • Reduced traffic means a reduction in wildlife collisions
  • Threatened breeds are seeing a boost in numbers
  • Once traffic returns to normal, roadkill numbers are expected to increase

Far fewer animals—including threatened breeds—are becoming roadkill, as people shelter-in-place and avoid commuting to work due to the coronavirus pandemic. In California alone, 8.4 large wild animals were killed every day prior to stay-at-home orders. Typical numbers have been reduced up to 56% as road traffic continues to drastically decline.

During the peak months of lockdown, between March and April, road traffic reduced as much as 73%, according to National Geographic. A study from the University of California’s Road Ecology Center examined this reduced traffic—and its effect on wildlife—in three states: California, Idaho and Maine. Between early March and mid-April, California’s large animal roadkill numbers reduced by 21%, Idaho’s numbers fell by 38%, and Maine’s numbers were cut almost in half, from 15.2 animals killed per day to only 8.4.

Road deaths of domestic animals—like dogs, cats, and sheep—saw a similar reduction. Wildlife deaths on highways typically increase in the spring, according to the director of UC Davis’ Road Ecology Center, Fraser Shilling. Once lockdowns are lifted, numbers are anticipated to rise again. 

The research showed promising numbers when it comes to protected wildlife, as well. Research suggests that mountain lions could go extinct in Southern California in the next 50 years. As of April, they are officially under temporary protection under the Endangered Species Act. Between March and April, 56% fewer mountain lions were killed. This plunge is promising for researchers, who say that a 50% reduction in 2020’s annual traffic would equate to “500 million vertebrates that aren’t killed on roads and highways.”

Fewer collisions is good news for humans, too. An estimated 200 people die each year from wildlife-related crashes. Once restrictions are lifted, however, researchers anticipate that most life will return to normal. That includes increased roadkill incidents, wildlife collisions, and loss of life—human and animal. 

Renee Seidler, the executive director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation in Wyoming, noted several potential long-term solutions. Once traffic is back up to normal levels, states can consider roadside fencing or constructing tunnels and bridges for animals to cross safely through. While this will surely come with a high price tag, the cost of the alternative, in the long run, is much higher.

Sources: USA Today, National Geographic, University of California Davis Road Ecology Center

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