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Study: Roadkill Has Declined Thanks To Stay-Home Orders

A mountain lion from the Santa Ana range in California approaches a road.
Orange County Transportation Authority
A mountain lion from the Santa Ana range in California approaches a road.

Fewer drivers on the road has meant fewer animals killed by cars.

Stay-at-home orders intended to reduce coronavirus infection rates have had multiple unexpected benefits in nature: air pollution has declined in American cities. Viral videos have shown unperturbed animals expanding into empty urban spaces. Now a new study shows significant reductions in wildlife being hit by cars.

Between early March and mid-April, traffic in California sank by up to 71%. Researchers at UC Davis recorded wildlife-vehicle collisions, also known as roadkill, dropped by 21% in the state over that same period. In Idaho, roadkill incidents dropped by 38% and they went down by 45% in Maine.

In California the number of mountain lions that were killed by cars dropped by more than half from the 10-week period before versus the 10 weeks after the stay-at-home orders went into effect. Mountain lions are a protected species in California.

“When you’re talking about small or endangered populations these reductions could be really significant for them in terms of making it,” says Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis.

The study used transportation data from California, Idaho and Maine to study the change in different areas of the country. The decrease could translate to 5,700-13,000 fewer large animals killed in those states each year, according to the report, not to mention the multitudes of small mammals that are never recorded.

Shilling says the study shows the impact of driving less and suggests it could help us think of ways to avoid harming animals as traffic volumes return.

“It brings up the obvious point that to protect wildlife we need to protect them from traffic, which means we need fencing and wildlife crossing structures everywhere,” he says. “That kind of programmatic response is something that hopefully we can help trigger with this kind of study.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.