Archive for October 18th, 2011


Recently, when we were exiting the highway and rounding the curve of the exit ramp, we were surprised by the sight of four large Turkey Vultures in the middle of the road in front of us. They were picking over the remains of a porcupine, nature’s clean-up crew in action. Three took flight as we approached, but the fourth held his ground, and I was able to take this photograph from where we had stopped at the side of the road.

The expansion of the road system has been good for Turkey Vultures, but not so good for pretty much any other member of the wild kingdom. One optimistic take on roadkill suggests that the numbers of dead animals littering the road is a good sign, an indicator that there are plenty of others living in the woods. Sadly, the real truth is that plenty of roadkills are only a sign of one thing: more roads.

Check out these two maps. The first shows the Southern Ontario road network in 1935, while the second shows the same region in 1995. The growth in our road network is glaringly obvious.



In fact, you are never more than 1.5 kilometres away from a road in Southern Ontario. Nor is it simply a matter of more roads. The quality of the roads has changed too. The graph below shows how, where once roads had mostly gravel or even dirt surfaces, the majority are now paved.


Paved roads mean cars travel faster. Cars travelling down a paved road are generally moving at a speed that is incomprehensible to an animal. An animal may dart across the road in front of an approaching car feeling safe in the knowledge that it can escape well before, say, an approaching fox could nab it. Or, in the case of a porcupine or skunk, safe in the knowledge that its natural defenses will protect it from all comers. In this they are sadly mistaken. Cars defy the rules of the natural world.

It’s not only the cars that kill animals. They are also impacted indirectly by road construction. Important factors include things like lose of habitat. There are also less obvious impacts. Road salt, for instance, is washed off roads and into waterways, where it disrupts the natural salinity of watersheds. The map below shows the salt burden born by roads. Southern Ontario is heavily impacted. Roadkill as a sign of a healthy population? Probably not.


Read Full Post »