Stop the roadkilling!
By : Dennis Stein
As the weather warms this spring, animals awaken from their winter slumber, and begin to move about in search of their first meals of the spring. Once the ground thaws, and the soil becomes warm in the spring, frogs, toads, and snakes all emerge from their winter hiding places. During the first spring rains, especially a few hours after dark, the roads can be literally covered with animals either looking for food, or on their way to nesting sites. On the water as well, turtles and birds beginning their seasonal breeding are often in the way. It is difficult at best to avoid hitting a frog as it comes into your headlights, or veer your boat around a turtle basking in the sun at the water's surface, but some of the species in our area need our help in this area, or we may not have any of them left.
In 2008, St.Lawrence Islands National Park conducted surveys whereby staff rode bicycles along the Thousand Islands Parkway, marking and identifying roadkills. The results were staggering. An average of five animals per kilometer per day, with a total of over 35,000 animals for the season of May to October. Five different endangered species were involved, with amphibians such as frogs and toads getting the worst of it.
Major research on turtle populations is also ongoing in the park, centering on the river from Mallorytown to Rockport. Blandings, Map, and Stinkpot turtles are the focus, and Map turtles seem to be most at risk, with adult females dying of collisions with boat propellers. The studies indicate that if just 10% of adult females hit by props die, the species will definitely become extinct within 500 years. That's a short period of time, ecologically speaking.
Another animal having a rough time in the area is the Black Rat Snake, Canada's largest snake at a maximum length of 2 meters, and surprisingly, a constrictor like the Boa Constrictor. They are all too often hit on roads.
Raccoons, White Tailed Deer, porqupines, along with other small mammals all risk danger crossing highways on the hunt for food, or moving to and from nesting areas.
The news is not all bad however, and alhough it may seem impossible to avoid hitting these animals at times, there are ideas which may be of help. Parks Canada staff have erected low plastic fencing which funnels animal traffic through culverts under the road instead of over it, in areas which have been seen to be 'hotspots' for roadkill incidents. No-wake zones, and propeller guards help turtles in areas known to contain turtle populations. Land stewardship programs with private landowners help the recovery of Rat Snakes, and other species at risk.
One thing my driving instructor told me when I was getting my license as a younger man, was NEVER to swerve to avoid hitting an animal, because you could cause a serious accident attempting to save the unfortunate creature. I still have trouble with that...