California Takes Roadkill Survey to Estimate Annual Animal Deaths

Roadkill is many things to many people. To some it's a grisly obstacle to be avoided. To others it's higher insurance premiums, while a few brave souls just see a free meal there for the taking. But a unique roadkill mapping project in California is using civilian volunteers to record roadkill as a way to estimate how many animals are killed on our roadways.

From this story in the New York Times:
To Ron Ringen, a retired veterinarian, roadkill is a calling. Nearly every week for the last seven months, Mr. Ringen, 69, has driven the roads north of this college town near Sacramento, scanning the pavement for telltale bits of fur and feathers. Pulling over, Mr. Ringen gets out, snaps photographs and uses his GPS device to record the precise location where creatures met their end. He has logged more than 1,400 animals, from the miniature (one-ounce song sparrows) to the gargantuan (a 1,500-pound black Angus bull). "Most people don't realize how many animals die on the road every day -- they just don't see it," he said. _While Mr. Ringen's friends goad him with nicknames like "Doctor Roadkill," he is not alone in his peculiar pursuit. Hundreds of volunteers collect and upload roadkill data to the California Roadkill Observation System, a mapping Web site built by researchers at the University of California, Davis, to better understand where and why cars strike animals.

Begun a year ago, the Web site -- www.wildlifecrossing.net/california -- is the first statewide effort to map roadkill using citizen observers. Volunteers comb the state's highways and country roads for dead animals, collecting GPS coordinates, photographs and species information and uploading it to a database and Google map populated with dots representing the kills. The site's gruesome gallery includes photos of flattened squirrels or squashed skunks. "For some people the only contact they have with wild animals is when they run them over," said Fraser M. Shilling, the lead researcher on the project. "This is the first time people have been able to record roadkill online and I think it will change our understanding of what our road system is really doing to wildlife."_