“From a humanity point of view, it sucks. But from a science point of view, it’s all interesting.” That's the assessment from Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at the University of California at Davis, as voiced to the Washington Post. He's behind a new report that found the pandemic has apparently spared one form of life—the animal kind, in the form of less roadkill. His team used data from the departments of transportation in California, Idaho, and Maine dating to 2015 to determine that road traffic sagged by roughly 70% in those states from early March to mid-April due to pandemic-related shutdowns. Using robust self-collected roadkill data in those states, Shilling's team reported that in the same period, Maine saw a 44% decrease in roadkill and Idaho saw a 38% drop. California saw a 21% drop, with a much bigger decrease—58%—for mountain lions specifically.
At the Atlantic, Ben Goldfarb calls it "an unprecedented roadkill reprieve." If continued, it "could amount to about 5,700 to 13,000 fewer large mammals killed each year in those stages alone," per a press release. And while the states' roadkill tallies include bears, deer, moose, and other large animals, small animals like raccoons, opossums, and snakes are excluded, meaning the true scope could be much larger. As for why the states didn't see a 70% drop—that is, one equal to the decrease in traffic—road ecologist Marcel Huijser speculates it could be because animals are "more likely to be hit around dusk and dawn and during the night compared to during the day.” And while the number of daytime commuters and shoppers were sharply curtailed, essential travel—that includes truck drivers who are on the roads during early and late hours—was not. (Read more discoveries stories.)