Most Eastern Sierra drivers see an occasional dead owl or raccoon on the highway shoulder, or have a close call with a group of deer, a speedy roadrunner, or coyote as they cross the road ahead of them. National statistics show that literally millions of wild animals are struck down by vehicles every week. More than 80 percent of the injured wildlife – birds, mammals and reptiles –brought to Wildcare have run afoul of a vehicle.
Vehicle strikes: A Golden Eagle collided with a windshield, and a young coyote was struck in a roadway. See Hazards to Wildlife
These are the few that survive long enough to be rescued and brought to our rehabilitation center. Only a few of those survive and can be released. Recently a White Pelican was rescued from the edge of Highway 395 just below Conway Summit. Collision with a semi-truck caused such severe injuries that she had to be put to sleep.
Why don't the animals just stay away from the roads? Because roads and highways cut through wildlife habitats where birds and mammals search for food, water, and shelter – survival basics for all animals. Food in the form of seeds, plants, insects, small rodents and roadkill are found on roadsides. Creeks, canals and ditches are spanned by roads and bridges. Roads are frequently bordered by trees, brush, and rock piles that offer perches, cover and, in some cases, food.
In some parts of our country, elongated bridges, overpasses and underpasses, combined with fencing to guide animals into these safe paths, help reduce the number of animals killed. Unfortunately, California lags way behind in installing such features.
So, what can you do to help?
Be aware that wild animals share the roads with you. Then you will be more likely to see the bird or mammal in or near the road and be able to avoid a collision.
Six Simple Lifesaving Tips:
- Follow speed limits. Taking it slow also makes it safer for the animals and other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
- Watch for wildlife in and near the road at dawn, early morning, dusk and the first few hours after dark. Keep in mind that where there is one animal there are probably others. Deer travel mostly in groups; young animals follow after their moms.
- Be especially cautious on two-lane roads bordered by woods or fields, or where streams cross under roads. Most animal/vehicle collisions occur on these roads.
- Try slowing down to at least 45 mph. Scan the road as you drive, watching the edges for wildlife about to cross. You will also be more aware of children at play, pets such as dogs and cats, and vehicles backing out of driveways.
- Use your high beams whenever possible. Lower your dashboard lights slightly. You'll be more likely to see the reflection of your headlights in the eyes of animals in time to brake.
- Don't throw trash out of car windows. Discarded food attracts wildlife to the roadside.
We who live in the beautiful Eastern Sierra are fortunate to share our landscape with an abundance of wild neighbors. Our hearts soar with the Golden Eagle just lifting off a roadside boulder. We smile seeing four fuzzy raccoons scurrying after their mom, or a group of does and fawns as they fade into the shelter of nearby woods. We thrill at a glimpse of a black bear or bobcat.
We can enjoy these moments and give our wild neighbors safe passage by simply opening our eyes and slowing down. Near dusk yesterday, on Highway 6 near Laws Railroad Museum, a Red-tailed Hawk survived a skirmish with a passing vehicle. Just maybe, the driver was obeying the speed limit, keeping a lookout for wildlife, and a beautiful, mature hawk got a brake. She'll be going home in a few days.
Living with Wildlife is a program of Wildcare Eastern Sierra dedicated to helping the people of the Eastern Sierra live in harmony with our wild neighbors.
For further information, contact Executive Director Cindy Kamler at (760) 872-1487.