It’s hard enough keeping Maine roads passable for humans, so it’s difficult to imagine resources being spent in a significant way to make them better for animals too.

That’s why the work being done by Maine Audubon and its partners around vehicle-animal collisions is important — it allows Maine to focus precious time and money on the areas where it matters most, to motorists and dozens of species.

Working with the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and the Road Ecology Center at University of California at Davis, among others, Maine Audubon has created a database of sightings of roadside animals, both dead and alive.

To do so, the organization recruited and trained volunteers to record what they saw on roads throughout the state. (Later this year, a new system will allow anyone to upload a photo with location data and have it automatically mapped.) Over time, the data recorded has given officials a map of the most dangerous places in Maine if you’re a road-crossing wild animal — or someone just trying to get home for supper.

Animal-vehicle collisions are the No. 1 cause of wildlife mortality. Through the first five years of the Maine Audubon project, 460 volunteers identified more than 6,000 individual animals roadside, including 153 different species; 60 percent were roadkill.

Roadkill is more than messy. From 2010-14, Maine experienced six fatalities and 23 incapacitating injuries from moose-vehicle collisions. The Insurance Information Institute estimates that deer-vehicle collisions cause about 200 fatalities and $3.6 billion in vehicle damage a year nationwide.

Even smaller animals such as wild turkeys, porcupines or raccoons can cause problems on the road as drivers swerve to avoid them.

And with some species, motor vehicles are an existential threat. Maine Audubon’s work takes a special look at threatened species of turtles. Turtles can move among several different wetlands in the spring, forcing them in many places to cross roads, where their shell is no match for a sedan. Because turtles don’t mate until they are older, the death of just 2 to 3 percent of a local population each year can be devastating.

In areas of frequent crossings, transportation officials have options. Unfortunately, the cheapest option — road signs and flashing lights — are the least effective. Canada has used vegetated overpasses to help wildlife cross roads, but those are costly.

Another, more affordable option is the use of fencing and culverts to steer animals toward safe crossings; Florida has been successful using them to help panthers, and the similar systems were put in place in Gorham, Caribou and Dixfield during state transportation projects. Cameras have picked up deer, bear, turkeys and other animals using the culverts.

Fencing-and-culvert systems can be comprehensive and part of a large state highway project, or something more rudimentary for local roads. Either way, they can help animals and people go about their business unharmed.

When at all possible, state and municipal officials should incorporate wildlife protections into their transportation plans. Now, thanks to Maine Audubon, its partners, and its volunteers, they have the information to do it right.


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