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In the San Francisco Bay Area, high-speed, high-volume traffic and seasonal migrations have created a maelstrom of animal-driver carnage. A motorcyclist was recently killed when he struck a large deer. A cyclist flying down a hill smacked into a deer and suffered a concussion and memory loss. The region ranks among the worst for wildlife-vehicle collisions in California, according to a report from UC Davis.
The number of drivers smashing into animals—deer are by far the most common victims, but there are also coyotes, bears, elk, mountain lions, and wild pigs—are up in California. The university’s researchers counted 7,831 such incidents in 2016 on highways and major roads, an increase of more than 2,000 over the previous year. These figures are all probably underestimates, as many people don’t report hitting animals and others swerve to avoid them, generating accident reports that often fail to mention wildlife.
Fraser Shilling, one of the authors of the UC Davis report and co-director of the Road Ecology Center, guesses the recent surge in collisions is due to the end of California’s bitter drought, which had starved deer of their preferred foods (delicious forbs!) and withered the vegetation they shelter in to avoid predators.
What might transportation gurus do to stop the local deer—which are everywhere, stalking the scenic hills of Berkeley and wandering onto both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges—from crossing the road and causing havoc?
Shilling has some strong thoughts. “It really depends on how seriously one takes wildlife conservation and driver safety,” he says. “If we manage to think of two things at once—we scratch our heads and pat our tummies and say, ‘We want to protect drivers and wildlife,’ then we need to fence and provide safe passage.”
“If we were to do this at the state level, we would find all these bad places [for wildlife-vehicle collisions] and act on it,” Shilling continues. “That’s the rational decision-making if one were rational in politics. It’s just that we are not on that pathway, we’re sort of in a rest area on this whole issue.”avis Road Ecology Center)
Beyond the problem of mass animal fatalities, California’s wildlife collisions dinged society to the tune of $500 million in 2015 and 2016, according to the Road Ecology Center, if you take into account costs like property damage, emergency response, medical bills, and time off work. When hit with enough speed, deer can total cars and break through the windshield, causing grievous injuries to drivers and passengers. In addition, about five people die in the state annually from animal-involved wrecks. This video of a bus hitting a deer illustrates the sheer force of an animal strike—it’s graphic, but in this case the deer seems to have escaped without too much harm.