This is from todays Wall Stret Journal How Sprawl and Cars Create An Era of Abundant Roadkill By JAMES P. STERBA Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ELLINGTON, Conn. -- For nine weeks this spring, 25 students in Steve Rogers' fifth-grade class counted every dead animal they passed on buses to and from school in this leafy exurb of Hartford. They tallied 190 creatures, including 10 skunks, 35 gray squirrels, 22 birds, eight rabbits and 56 corpses they labeled URPs, for "unidentified road pizzas." Robert Buyea's fourth-graders in Bethany, to the south, counted 266 animals, including 45 opossums, 10 deer, and two coyotes. Both classes, along with 13 others in seven states, e-mailed tallies weekly to Brewster Bartlett ([email protected]). He's a science teacher at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., who started classroom roadkill monitoring in 1993, with $6,250 in National Science Foundation seed money. The students learn data collection and e-mailing. And they get a close-up look at a grisly face of modern wildlife management: critter control by family car. America's four-million-mile grid of roads and highways is littered with roadkill. Cars have been running over animals since Model-Ts began rolling off the Ford assembly line in 1908. What's new, say wildlife biologists, is the scope of today's carnage. With an increase in driving, ever-more sprawl, a decline in hunting and the comeback of once-diminished species of large animals, reported animal-vehicle collisions have exploded to unprecedented levels. In Henry Ford's day, for example, only about 500,000 white-tailed deer existed across the entire U.S. This year drivers will kill nearly four times that number, or around 1.8 million. "We joke around here that the only deer predator left is a Chevy pickup," says Wayne Langman, who patrols 850 miles of roads around Terre Haute, Ind., picking up roadkill for the state highway department. He costs taxpayers about $42,000 a year in salary and expenses, including $9.40 per trip to the landfill. For years, animal-rights groups have estimated that a million animals die on the roads each day. If so, that means drivers kill more than double the number of animals killed by hunters and trappers combined, although hunters kill more large animals than do drivers. The Fund for Animals, which seeks to end all hunting in a generation, says hunters and trappers killed 134 million creatures in the 1996-97 season, down from the 200 million animals killed in 1991. But some wildlife biologists and carcass-removal contractors believe that the old roadkill estimates are now too low. "It's far, far higher now than most people think," says Bill Ruediger, a biologist who studies roads and wildlife for the U.S. Forest Service. "People are wildly underestimating the numbers." For starters, driving has doubled in a decade. According to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S. rose to nearly 2.8 trillion in 2000 from 1.4 trillion in 1990. Second, nearly all the new road mileage is taking place in ever-billowing regions of suburban sprawl that are now home to 60% of U.S. residents and to flourishing populations of wildlife. Between 1982 and 1997, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sprawl consumed 25 million rural acres, an area larger than Indiana. Most people think of suburban sprawl as Los Angeles or other cities in the West. But it is most concentrated in the densely-populated eastern third of the country, where it pushes ever deeper into old farmland that is now covered in forest grown back naturally. This woodsy landscape gets sprinkled with houses on multi-acre lots, office parks, malls, corporate campuses, golf courses, second homes and weekend farm-ettes. Subsidized Species Sprawl inhabitants, wittingly and unwittingly, manage the wildlife around them. Most suburbanites are aware that their bird feeders also feed squirrels and their garbage feeds raccoons. Less well known are how manicured lawns and golf courses nourish such species as red foxes by offering up a feast of nightcrawlers and insects. With such abundance and protection, the menagerie of so-called subsidized species proliferates: squirrels, raccoons, woodchucks, opossums, skunks, coyotes, geese, turkeys, deer, even bears and moose. To be sure, only slightly more than 5% of land in the continental U.S., roughly 155,000 square miles, is developed. But that land -- a swath the size of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland combined -- is essentially off-limits to traditional methods of wildlife management. "As more people move out into the rural-urban interface, we see additional restrictions being placed on the use of regulated harvests to control populations," says Terry Messmer, who teaches wildlife conflict management at Utah State University. "The combination of reduced or no harvest coupled with the lush vegetation of the new urban landscape that provides ample habitat needs has created a welfare situation for wildlife. The consequences are overabundant wildlife and increased human-wildlife conflicts." In other words, the sprawl dwellers feed the animals, protect them from hunting and trapping, which they consider cruel, then kill them with their cars. Much of the carnage goes unnoticed -- tiny animals such as birds and amphibians don't even register a bump. And far more creatures die unseen off the road than on or beside it. "For every dead animal you see beside the road, there's 10 more you can't see in the weeds," says Brett McDonnell, who gets $115 for every dead deer he removes from Erie County roads around Buffalo. Hitting big mammals does get attention, because they kill back. A 1995 study team led by Michael R. Conover, a wildlife scientist at Utah State University, found that deer-vehicle collisions, or DVCs, injured about 29,000 drivers and passengers annually and killed an average of 211 people. That's low compared with 41,800 annual highway fatalities. But put another way: Deer kill more people in the U.S. than do all commercial airlines, train and bus accidents combined in a typical year. Less than half of DVCs were reported to authorities, Dr. Conover found, but reported collisions alone caused $1.1 billion in vehicle damage. And an estimated 92% of the deer died. "We see them all over the roads around here," says Sean Mcguire, an auto dealer in Newton, N.J. "Over 25% of my repair shop work is now from deer. It's great for our body-collision business. But hey, my sister hit a deer and totaled her SUV." Most state counts reflect a steady rise from the late 1970s. In Ohio, for example, reported collisions in 1977 were only 4,973. By 1987, they had climbed to 16,391, then last year to 31,585. One of the few insurance companies that keep detailed data on deer-car crashes is the Erie Insurance Group, of Erie, Pa., which insures 1.8 million auto owners in 11 Northeastern and Midwestern states. Erie says its pay-out claims more than doubled in seven years, to $49.7 million in 2001 for 26,735 claims from $21.6 million in 1995 for 15,114 claims. Deer claims account for 38% of all comprehensive-coverage losses, says Karen Rugare, an Erie spokesperson. In New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it's closer to 45%. Average claim: $1,770. Roadkill removal isn't cheap either. Florida's Broward County doesn't have many deer but taxpayers paid Joe Pelegi about $100,000 last year to pick up and dispose of roughly 5,000 animal carcasses at $20 apiece. Nature's Course Many road crews simply pull roadkill off the highways into the weeds, perhaps adding lime, and let nature take its course. Vultures, coyotes, opossums and other scavengers come along -- and often become roadkill themselves. Wisconsin (first in DVCs, with 90,000 estimated last year) diverted $575,000 in state roadkill-removal funds to other uses, telling counties to fend for themselves. In a cost-saving move last year, Ohio's highway department canceled a roadkill-removal contract near Wooster and set-up four 12-by-12-foot bins for making deer compost. "It's like a slow cooker," a state garage manager was quoted as saying at the time. "It smells like pork chops." The founders of the modern wildlife-conservation ethic couldn't have imagined this. One of them, Theodore Roosevelt, became president in 1901, when there were no paved roads, few automobiles and no suburbs. Fast was 30 miles an hour. The U.S. population was 76 million, 38% farmers (compared with 287 million now, 2.6% of them farmers). The first paved road, outside Detroit, wouldn't be built until 1908. Commercial hunters and trappers had reduced the populations of many wild species -- deer, elk, moose, bison, beavers, among them, as well as many birds -- to historic lows. Their meat was sold to butcher shops, feathers to milliners, furs to hat and garment makers. Market-Hunting To stop this so-called market-hunting, Roosevelt and others sold the idea that wildlife should be protected from commerce and nurtured for all citizens to enjoy as a renewable national resource. First the decimated species would be brought back from the brink. Then their populations, once healthy, would be managed by hunting and trapping, with state agencies setting the length of seasons and the bag limits -- the numbers of animals that could be harvested. The agencies made mistakes. They paid bounties for predators, including mountain lions, wolves, bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, hawks and owls. This greatly reduced or eliminated their role in game management. Meanwhile, deer were usually managed to please deer hunters. Sparing females maximized population growth. And while hunters preferred the deep woods, deer proliferated into farmland, exurbs and suburbs, away from hunting pressure. By the 1980s, DVCs were spiking and "deer" was becoming a dirty word. While hunting in general has declined, the number of licensed deer hunters has grown to 14.2 million last year from 11.7 million in 1994, says Daniel E. Schmidt, editor of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine, which surveys state wildlife agencies annually. But even though they killed 7.4 million deer annually and drivers killed another 1.8 million, the white-tail population grew to an estimated 32.7 million last year from 29.8 million in 1994. That means today's population equals the estimated number of deer in the country before Europeans arrived in 1620. While baby-boomers and their progeny take them for granted, good roads are relatively new. Writes Richard F. Weingross, a U.S. government historian of public roads: "Well into the 20th century, calling them 'roads' gives them more credit than they deserve. They were often little more than trails that were muddy in the rain and dusty the rest of the time." In 1919, a Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower accompanied the U.S. Army's first transcontinental motor convoy. The roads were terrible. The trip from Washington to San Francisco, with stops for breakdowns and speeches, took 62 days. During World War II, General Eisenhower was impressed by Germany's wide, smooth autobahns, first built in 1935. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, thus beginning a 44,000-mile interstate highway system. And in the next four decades, nothing facilitated the creation of exurban sprawl more. The hard-surface asphalt road, local or long-distance, is a wildlife magnet. It absorbs heat during the day. Insects, at home in its grassy, often-mowed, edges, crawl on to the warm road and stay active at night. So do slugs and worms on wet nights. Insect-eating animals such as skunks and foxes come on to the roadway to feast at nature's Roadkill Cafe. Once they're run over, other protein eaters, including vultures and coyotes, come along to eat them. Deer, moose and other ungulates, not only eat freshly-mowed grass in summer but love to lick the salt spread in winter. For esthetics and cover, some misguided highway departments planted sunflowers and vetch -- gourmet food for seed-eaters. A woody shrub from Asia called thorny elaeagnus was planted for years along medians in Virginia to reduce headlight glare. It produces a juicy red berry in early spring when flocks of an elegant songbird called the cedar waxwing are migrating north. The birds swoop in for berries and are hit by cars going 70 miles an hour. Last year, researchers from the College of William & Mary collected more than 1,600 dead birds along two stretches of highway -- more than 350 of them from one site in a single day. "Although I have not made any attempt to quantify the number of smaller animals killed by vehicles, I do know the number is staggering," says Russell Benedict, a biology professor at Christopher Newport University, in Newport News, Va., who spends a lot of time walking along roadsides. Last spring, he, five students, his wife and two daughters surveyed 2.7 miles of highway and access ramps just outside Newport News for a special form of roadkill: small animals who die crawling into bottles and cans tossed by drivers. Among the dead animal carcasses littering the roadside, they found 10,681 bottles and cans. Inside, they found 795 dead shrews, mice, salamanders and lizards.