Roadkill and Litter: How Tossing Your Trash Kills Animals

Squirrel roadkill photo
CC BY-SA 2.0. Daniel Morris

Daniel Morris/CC BY-SA 2.0

Litter Creates Roadkill Creates More Roadkill - The Chain Reaction
Roadkill is a perennial problem in our car-addicted society. And while some people may be finding creative, if creepy, applications for recycling our non-human brothers and sisters (dead squirrel decanter, anyone?), the fact is that road kill creates more road kill. Bill, a good friend who sits on the board of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, recently told my colleague TAO (yes, I work with hippies!) that 80% of owls in rehabilitation have been injured in car accidents, and that they are often attracted to roadsides because of the mice, birds and other scavengers that are feasting on the dead deer, dog, raccoon or whatever that was originally hit. But what can we do about that, you ask? It turns out that this reaction starts a little further up the food chain with us humans. Click below the fold to read more.
You see, what brings animals to the roadside in the first place? Litter. Have you ever tossed an apple core, banana peel, or other food item out of your car, figuring it's biodegradable and might provide some much-needed food for a hungry animal? If you haven't, the chances are you know someone who has. And then there are those who don't give a hoot if it's biodegradable, chucking out half-eaten Happy Meals and anything else that might otherwise stink up the car (as Bonnie reported earlier today, fast food packaging is by far the most prevalent form of litter). Well, guess what? Animals like food, and they'll often go to where they can find it easiest. So is it any wonder that when our roadsides look like the finest All You Can Eat Buffet that Bambi has ever seen, we end up with increased roadkill, which further perpetuates this sorry cycle. I'll hand the baton over to TAO for the lessons learned from this depressing tale:

So, please make and keep this New Year's Resolution - don't litter, period, even with food scraps. And, while we're at it, let's make sure our composting piles are not in an area that put wildlife at risk. My broader resolution is to always "think it through", which leads me to other related and important considerations on this topic:
If you see an injured animal, stop if possible and please take some action to help (I keep my local wildlife rescue numbers in my cell phone). Believe me, some of the most seemingly unlikely rescues have happened simply because someone stopped. I once picked up a Beagle along the highway, drove 2 miles to the next exit and happened to see a truck driving through a ploughed field nearby. The driver was looking for his lost dog - a Beagle.
If you see a dead animal, call your local authority to have it removed and help avoid the chain reaction of killing that is sure to follow. I keep that number in my phone also, so that I can give the location more accurately.

Head on over to TAO's own blog for more advice on animal rescue. Not convinced? Google "litter and roadkill" and you'll find a smattering of blogs and articles that make a similar point, like this piece on preventing owl roadkill, but it seems like this is a meme that has a long way to go before it becomes accepted wisdom. Of course, if we could just reduce our dependence on the automobile, we'd go a long way towards eliminating roadkill, and roadside litter, in the first place.

Big thanks go to Bill O'Luanaigh and TAO for the original impetus for this post!