Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Finding New Ways To Avoid Adirondack Roadkill

RoadkillMany of us are familiar with the guilt of hitting an animal while driving. The way that its body weight seems to travel through the frame of the car is difficult to forget.

But the fact remains that we have places to be and even a few well-intentioned road signs cannot slow us down. In our ceaseless efforts to connect our world, we don’t always consider the ways that our road network has fragmented the animal habitats it paves over.

The unpleasant task of shoveling the battered carrion from our roadways falls to local highway departments. But what exactly happens to the bodies from there? I reached out to representatives from a few local county highway departments and it turns out their methods vary, but most are taken to landfills or compost bins. Scavengers remove many of these animals before road crews have a chance to clear the roads, a valuable but underappreciated ecosystem service provided by crows, ravens, foxes, and the like.

A study published in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology found that seasonal peaks in road kill for specific species was dependent upon breeding periods and dispersal. Deer and moose are particularly vulnerable to vehicle collisions during their fall mating seasons, according to a representative for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Disseminating information on these predictable changes in animal behavior provides some aid, but the number of incidents remains troubling. This suggests that accommodating for animal behavior could be more effective than attempting to educate human drivers.

A fact sheet published by the Defenders of Wildlife conservation group indicates that 1.5 million wildlife-vehicle collisions occur annually in the United States, with the majority resulting in animal fatalities. In New York, an estimated 30,000 deer are killed every year in vehicle collisions, according to DEC.  There are also human consequences to account for, with wildlife collisions responsible for over 200 human deaths nationally and over a billion dollars in property damage, the Defenders of Wildlife reported.

The high rate of wildlife-vehicle collisions is partially the result of increasing land development. A study published in Wildlife Biology by John A Bisonette and Silvia Rosa states that 50% of land in the United States is within 382m (1253.28ft) of a road. This has resulted in a closer proximity between roads and animal habitats, with road density reaching 0.75km/km² (1.21mile/mile²) according to the same study. Phil Brown wrote an article for the Adirondack Almanack earlier this year about how increased land development has threatened remote areas in the Adirondack Park. According to a study, land that now qualifies as remote – at least three miles from a road and at least two miles from a lake allowing motorboats – has dropped to less than 3% in the Park.

Road salt poses another potential aggravator for wildlife collisions. Salty pools of water, which collect along roadsides, attract deer and moose, whose only other source of salt are aquatic plants. According to a study published by Paul Grossman and his colleagues in Ecology and Society, salt pools result in animal movement primarily during spring and early summer when aquatic plants are unavailable.

Mitigation strategies for wildlife-vehicle collisions have been employed in other states to some success. Road systems incorporating overpasses and coverts allow for animals to move across busy highways, and effectively reconnect fragmented habitats. The initial costs of these infrastructure projects could be offset by the resulting reduction in vehicle damages from wildlife collisions. According to John A Bisonette and Silvia Rosa’s study, deer collision mitigation strategies in Montana resulted in a 98.5% decline in deer mortality from a six-year period prior to construction. The Montana mitigation strategy combined fences with wildlife underpasses, whereas the study’s control lacked these features and resulted in only a 2.9% decline in deer mortality in the same period.

Hunter Peters recently completed an internship at the Adirondack Almanack. 


Hunter Peters

Hunter Peters is a writer from Washington County with an interest in environmentalism. He also writes poetry, with publications in the Apeiron Review and Magazine 43.




32 Responses

  1. MITCH EDELSTEIN says:

    “According to a study, land that now qualifies as remote – at least three miles from a road and at least two miles from a lake allowing motorboats – has dropped to less than 3% in the Park.”

    What’s the definition of a road? There are a number of remote roads around me that are rarely used. Some only used during hunting season for example.

  2. Charlie S says:

    “But the fact remains that we have places to be and even a few well-intentioned road signs cannot slow us down.”

    A golden finch flew under my truck this morning Hunter. I was doing about 40 mph in a 40 mph zone. I looked in my mirror and evidently it passed under my vehicle unharmed. What a a relief! If I had been doing 50 mph, or more, like most people tend to do on this road, that finch wouldn’t have made it I am certain. This stretch of road, which I call death lane due to the all of the dead animals I see on it or off to the sides, runs along the south side of the Mohawk River east of Rt. 9. Muskrats evidently come out of the water and try to cross but don’t make it. Woodchucks aplenty I see dead on this strip, rabbits, possums, raccoons, crows. It bothers me to have to go this route because every time I do…dead animals! I am convinced that if people drove slower there’d be less dead animals on the roads. Also if they paid attention to the wild animals that might pop out there’d be less dead animals.Also if more people were mindful! I am always alert for animals when I drive. Always! Heck I brake for butterflies!

    I don’t buy what you say above. When we get to the point when there are more important things than a clock to beat maybe then there’d be less misery on our roads. Personally I think the speed limits are set way too high on many roads in this region. Or maybe I am just overly sensitive when doing 30 mph in a 45 zone feels about the max the speed limit should be in a residential neighborhood or back country road which oftentimes occurs with me.

    • JohnL says:

      Brake for butterflies????? Safety on the road depends a lot on predictability of the other drivers. So……once again I gotta say that, in my humble opinion, you’re the menace on the road.

    • Debra E says:

      I agree with you. If people drove slower there would be a lot less dead animals. Glad to learn there are others who think the same. Most people are only concerned with themselves and their time.

    • Taras says:

      There’s a case in Quebec where a driver stopped in the left lane of a major provincial highway because a duck was leading her brood crossing the road. The driver exited the vehicle, now serving as a deadly obstruction, to try to shoo the ducks off the road.

      A car towing a camper managed to swerve around the parked vehicle. The father and daughter motorcyclists behind the camper weren’t so lucky. They plowed into the parked car and were killed.

      Two people dead because, ducks.

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/emma-czornobaj-who-stopped-for-ducks-causing-2-deaths-appeals-sentence-1.2896005

      Please don’t do this for butterflies.

      • Charlie S says:

        This is a clear case of ignorance Taras. When I say I brake for butterflies I didn’t mean that I dead stop in the road when cars are behind me. What I meant is my initial reaction…when a butterfly, or a dragonfly, or whatnot comes into view ahead of my vehicle…is to avert hitting it and so my foot leans on the brake. That’s because I’m always looking out! I cannot help who is me.

        I am reminded of an incident in Tampa many years ago after reading about the driver in Quebec who parked in the left lane of a major highway. There was a driver who stalled his (or her) car on the other side of a very small bridge that went over a creek in south Tampa near the port. Instead of rolling the car off to the side this driver left the car where it stalled, got out and stood on the side waiting for a miracle to happen I suppose, not thinking about the next car that would come over that hump in the road.
        The driver of the next car that came over that hump had no clue of course that as soon as he (or she) was on top of that small hump just a few seconds later he (or she) would be dead as that car plowed right into the stalled car. They don’t teach us to think in this society which is unfortunate because there is a lot of misery due to this factoid.

        We’re talking about being mindful of animals on the road versus hurrying-up to get to where it is we have to go. If we were more mindful, less mindless and not always in a rush there’d be less dead animals. It’s very simple really.

      • Boreas says:

        Taras,

        While there is no replacement for common sense, another way to look at this tragedy is this: Say the motorist’s car died and came to a stop there, or was stopped for a significant obstruction in the road – say a person in distress or a log. It is possible the unfortunate motorcyclists would have been considered in the wrong for traveling too fast for conditions. Motorcycles just can’t stop quickly.

        But I agree with Charlie – we all need to drive more defensively and pay more attention. We are all guilty of driving beyond our ability to stop – on a regular basis. Shouldn’t matter if it is a turtle or a toddler.

        • Taras says:

          The Quebec Highway Code states:
          http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/ShowDoc/cs/C-24.2

          #384. No person may stop a road vehicle on the roadway of a public highway where the maximum speed allowed is 70 km/h or more, unless in a case of necessity or when authorized to do so by signs or signals.

          The driver was convicted because stopping in a passing lane for ducks was judged to be not “a case of necessity”.

          Perhaps if it had been a toddler or a log then it would’ve been ruled a “necessity”. However, probably not a turtle.

          BTW, the driver’s intent was to collect the ducklings for safe-keeping. From all appearances, the danger posed to others by the parked vehicle was not a consideration. The highway where this happened is like the I-87.

          http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-motorist-accused-in-two-deaths-said-she-was-helping-ducks-1.2663840

          • Boreas says:

            Taras,

            Your’re missing my point. My point isn’t why the vehicle was in the road, the point is driving defensively and not driving beyond your ability to stop could well save your life.

        • JohnL says:

          What is our ability to stop? If a deer suddenly jumps 3 feet in front of your car, you can’t stop in time, even if you’re travelling at 10 mph. Like I said above, the safety of vehicles/drivers depends on predictability, and animals exhibit NO predictability when it comes to entering the highway. I would agree that many (maybe most) people drive faster than the POSTED speed. By the way, I’m not one of them. That is a problem in a lot of ways, and certainly in the discussion we’re having here. Common sense people. Slow down a little when it’s a particularly dark night, and for gosh sakes, don’t hit the brakes if a squirrel runs in front of you when you’re in heavy traffic. Human lives trump animal lives EVERY TIME.

          • Boreas says:

            Agreed. Drivers can be as unpredictable as animals – and often pay less attention to what they are doing. How many people do you see tailgating? Cruising through stop signs? Texting? If you are not vigilant about potential hazards, you are at a higher risk of running into something. You can’t avoid hitting everything, but it is best to try.

  3. MICHAEL CLARKE says:

    Speaking of roadkill statistics, I have an old story about a NYS Trooper who got in big trouble over that topic. In the 1980’s my father was a station commander in Rhinebeck, NY barracks. He recieved a very condescending written letter of inquiry (I believe it was from the State Comptroller audit office) stating that in October there were approximately 100 personal injury auto accidents in his zone, with approximately 125 tickets written related to those accidents. The next month, there were over 175 personal injury auto accidents in the same zone, but still 125 tickets issued. The auditors demanded an explanation, as the ratio of tickets per accident had dropped precipitously. He wrote back that after investigating, he determined that the increase in personal injury auto accidents was caused by the reckless behavior of the mating deer, coupled with the start of hunting season. He said reckless, because upon further investigation, he determined that the deer had not, for the most part, crossed the highways anywhere near the marked deer crossing signs. Furthermore, he stated that the surviving deer would be tracked down and appropriately cited for failing to cross at the marked crossings. He hoped tgat this would rectify the situation. Of course, it didn’t!

    Dad wasn’t very popular at headquarters.

  4. Dan says:

    I hit a deer in Warren County a few years ago that jumped in front of my Jeep on my way to work one winter morning. I never had a chance as he was sprinting across the road. Years ago, my father had one run into the side of his truck in the middle of a snowstorm. I feel there’d be less deer/vehicle collisions if people didn’t feed deer. Many that are hit near populated areas have bellies full of corn and bird seed, especially in the winter months.

    • Boreas says:

      Dan,

      I am sure some people feed deer, but populated areas are basically deer sanctuaries. They help themselves to crops and landscaping plants worry-free because village residents typically are not allowed to discharge firearms because of the proximity to houses. There are really no other good ways to keep deer out of residential areas. Believe me, my house is on a deer trail and I have been trying for 15 years. Without predators or hunting, they and the ticks they carry will always be a problem.

      • Dan says:

        I agree there are population issues in suburban areas. It is now legal to discharge a bow within 150 feet of a road or dwelling, it used to be 500. If you can just get homeowners to cooperate. Personally, I have no interest in hunting suburban deer but I know other hunters would.

        I live in an area typical of the Adirondacks; not the deep woods, and not suburban (or agricultural). The deer will and do venture to their winter yarding areas if they are not enticed to stay by another food source, such as hunters and non-hunters alike feeding/baiting them. Unfortunately people like seeing deer but are killing them with kindness, and insurance claims. Mild winters don’t help either.

      • Kathy says:

        What was there first? Your home or the deer trail ?

        • Michael T. Clarke says:

          Hang green Irish Spring bars of soap along yoir property lines. Imtge odor is obnoxious to the deer. Whether the drer wre there first or not is a moot point. I didn’t get to the top of the food chain to give up my living space to a deer.

        • Boreas says:

          Kathy,

          Most likely the home. During the early depression when it was built there weren’t many deer about close to towns. If there were, they were eaten. The exploding deer population is a modern phenomenon.

          • Kathy says:

            Not so new to me having moved up here being run out of town from my last rural location by the remaining deer I had not hit. In that area recent new home development exploded first around the perimeter of a county park and formerly quiet country roads. Deer were used to crossing out of the park to cornfields and back. My Jeep was a magnet/target for suicidal deer and speed was not a factor. Even got hit by a dead deer flying thru the air after being tossed by a big truck.
            Population growth to previously unsettled areas may add to more road kill as deer move to feeding areas and we see more deer with less home range for them. I think the towns grew closer to the deer not vice versa and roads improved for residents with speed limits increased.

      • Paul says:

        Under the guise of Cornell University they have a very successful program of limiting deer populations near Ithaca where they extensively harvest deer using stands in residential neighborhoods very close to homes. No one has been hurt and the deer population in these areas has gone way down much closer to where it should be for the lands holding capacity. People may have seen the documentary about deer in these areas that was on PBS. Development means more deer not less in many areas.

        • JohnL says:

          I didn’t see the documentary. Are you saying they are shooting deer? In ITHACA? Wow, they’re the most liberal town in NYS. I’m surprised.

          • Paul says:

            Excellent point. The focus area is actually in Lansing right next to Ithaca. But they are also shooting deer in Cayuga Heights – part of Ithaca. And yes it is pretty funny to see the folks show up to protest. They had deer cut outs placed in the chairs at the town meetings!

            Here is a link to the Nature documentary:

            http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/the-private-life-of-deer-preview/8302/

            Ithaca is one of the most liberal towns in the US. Kind of a dead heat between Ithaca, Boulder, and Berkley!

            Luckily most people in Ithaca are smart enough to listen to the wildlife biologists at Cornell who know what they are doing.

  5. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    In New York State, motorists kill one deer for every four taken by hunters. At the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, we feed deer killed by cars to gray wolves, black bear, coyote, coywolves, fox, bobcat, fisher, eagles, ravens, vultures, etc., a practice which greatly eases our costs for both rehab and release of injured predators, as well as for public education, using non-releasable predators. We are regularly called by state police, DEC, DOT and friends of the Refuge to report locations of freshly killed deer. If you’re within about 15 miles of Whiteface Mountain, call us at 855-Wolf-Man, to report fresh killed deer. Naturally, scavengers also routinely avail themselves of roadkill. There is an interesting study by SUNY ESF, covering 2007 to 2012, funded by the DEC, which shows minimal impact on state deer numbers by coyote predation, claiming most of adult deer consumed by coyotes are scavenged roadkill. http://media.syracuse.com/outdoors_impact/other/Coyote_Progress_Report_2014.good.pdf

    • Paul says:

      Saw a fresh roadkill (deer) being fed on by 4 turkey vultures when I was riding my bike the other day. It was really an amazing site. Those are big birds! Got a few pretty cool pictures.

    • Dan says:

      I’m not doubting the study, but I’ve also seen many trail camera photos and even video of Adirondack bucks and does being pursued by coyotes. Believe me, they are nowhere near roads.

      • Paul says:

        Other studies have shown that coyotes mainly wean their pups on venison so that isn’t just road kill. Deer they have killed are healthy adult deer (by looking at the bone marrow). Adults perhaps – but the same study has shown that fawns are serious prey for coyotes especially in places like the Adirondacks where they don’t have the tall grass fawning areas where they are better protected.

        From the same study Steve mentions:

        “In general, she and her team concluded that coyotes, which dine on a wide variety of animals and plants, prey heavily on fawns during the spring and early summer”

        http://www.syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2015/01/suny_esf_prof_coyotes_are_everywhere_in_nys_but_overall_impact_on_deer_is_minima.html

        • Boreas says:

          When I first moved in to Deer Central, there were also coyotes around. Deer stayed further in the woods and weren’t seen as often, but were certainly there – given the number of newly-planted arborvitaes they killed. For some reason the coyotes moved on about 10 years ago and the deer have taken over. I don’t know if the coyotes were trapped/shot or what – they didn’t leave for lack of deer. The only thing I can think of is there was an abandoned nearby golf course that was rejuvenated around that same time frame. Overgrown brush and trees were removed and fairways replanted. This may have worked against the ‘yotes and pushed the deer toward the village creating the predator/prey imbalance we have now.

  6. adirondackjoe says:

    Ticks. We have so many deer and ticks that spread deadly diseases if you see a road kill deer in nj it’s considered a victory.

    • Boreas says:

      ADKJoe,

      And hazardous. Ticks soon figure out their host is dead and flee like rats off a sinking ship. If you ever transport a dead mammal be wary of ticks leaving the carcass.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *