Today’s Solutions: March 25, 2023

Among its disastrous effects on human populations, the pandemic has offered some reprieve for the environment. We discussed how quieter cities contributed to thriving bear populations in Yosemite and blue whale gatherings off the coast of San Francisco. Although not as glamorous as other areas of conservation action, the reduction of roadkill has also been dramatic around the world. 

In the United States, the estimated loss of birds and mammals to roadkill is one million each day. However, according to a report by the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, roadkill fell by 21 percent in California in the four weeks following the state’s stay at home order. In Idaho and Maine, the drops were even more significant at 38 and 44 percent respectively. The report estimates that a yearlong pause in travel would save 27,000 large animals in those three states alone. 

Wildlife counters such as Greg LeClair, a graduate student at the University of Maine, are seeing these results first hand. Where wildlife observers normally count two live animals for each killed, this year they have found four. 

Although large mammals are often the focal point of roadkill research, small animal populations are also benefiting from the slower pace of life on roads. Millions of snakes, frogs, and insects, such as the endangered monarch butterfly, are also lost to roadways each year. The pandemic shutdown, which some scientists have dubbed the “anthropause” has reduced our collective road travel 71 percent in the US and could inadvertently be the largest national conservation effort of the decade. 

Although the pace of traffic is beginning to pick back up, the animals saved this year will serve as a population boost for future generations. As more amphibians reached their mating ponds and mountain lions safely hunted across highway lines, they laid the foundation for a conservation movement that will hopefully outlast the pandemic itself.

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