California Roadkill Database to Make Highways Safer for Animals

dead bird on road image

Migrated Image / seabamirum / Flickr 

Mapping out roadkill. It's an unusual, and yet incredibly important project. We know that roadways are deadly for animals, not just in the direct sense that everything from insects to birds to huge mammals is hit by cars. But also in that roads rip through habitats, dividing hunting territories and migration routes. But exactly how problematic are roads, and for which species?

While exact numbers are difficult to find, the Humane Society estimates that about 1 million animals are killed per day, the details are not always obvious. And that's why hundreds of volunteers are filling out the California Roadkill Observation System (CROS). The report will help clarify where and why cars strike animals. And perhaps come up with solutions.

The New York Times reports that CROS sets volunteers out to travel the state's highways with eyes set for dead animals. Once spotted, the volunteer records the GPS coordinates and the species. They upload photographs to the database. Anyone can enter an observation into the database, and it looks like the bay area has a lot more active volunteers since there's no way so few animals are killed in the massive network of LA-area freeways:

road kill map image

While anyone can enter an observation, you have to do so on the website, and that fact alone reduces how many people will report observations. The group is working on creating a smartphone app so people can upload reports and images right from their phone while they're out. Plus, the GPS data would be extremely accurate, thanks to the embedded software in the cell phones.

In addition to using smartphones for data entry, the phones and their GPS capabilities would also be able to record traffic speeds. In much the same way Google wants to use smartphones to help with real-time traffic data, the California Roadkill Observation System could use it to find out more about under what conditions animals are being hit.

All the information put together can help researchers determine animal crossing hot spots and warning systems for drivers.

The second system in Maine -- the Maine Audubon Wildlife Road Watch (MAWRW) -- was started up in March. If the mapping system proves its usefulness, we just might see even more volunteer networks pop up elsewhere in the country.