Last week, I again had the sad experience of coming upon a dead rattlesnake in the road. I was bicycling Lakeshore Road, next to Split Rock Wild Forest, when I came upon another tragic death on the highway.
This is the third dead rattlesnake I’ve seen on this road in the last few years, added to the dozens of dead porcupines and squirrels, and occasional dead beavers or foxes. The death is particularly sad in that our area is one of the northern-most outposts for the Timber Rattlesnake, and the shapely dark serpent is a rare, imperiled species in New York.
This dead snake was so badly smashed, I had to wonder if the driver hit the snake on purpose. If so, I hope better folks than I will pray for that driver’s lost soul — the sort that wantonly kills other or smaller life forms, so as to feel powerful.
Rattlesnakes, Roads & Roadkill
Rattlesnakes are good and honorable members our native biota, playing vital roles in controlling rodent populations and being among our loveliest reptiles. We should all strive to protect the habitats reptiles and amphibians need to thrive, and we should drive slowly and carefully so as to minimize risks of hitting them.
Roads and the motor vehicles that drive them are major threats to wildlife at individual and species levels in most of the developed world, particularly the heavily-roaded and driven United States. Roads block wildlife movement, and cars kill many of the animals that brave the perilous crossings. We Americans are complicit in the needless killing of billions of animals on roads every year. Some of this carnage — with victims ranging from snakes and salamanders to bobcats and bears — is inevitable, so long as we get around primarily by driving; but much of it can be avoided.
How to Reduce Roadkill
Here are some basic measures we Americans could take to minimize the wildlife (and human) losses on roads:
- Drive less often and less fast, especially at night when many animals are moving and are harder to see.
- When you have a choice of routes, rather than driving small roads through wild places (like the afore-mentioned Lakeshore Road, which I’ve driven all too many times …), choose major roads through developed areas where wild animals are less common.
- Help wildlife and transportation officials find where wild animals are trying to cross roads, and urge road departments to install safe wildlife crossings (overpasses or underpasses) in these places. When road engineers say the crossings are too expensive, point out that they save human as well as wild lives, and trot out statistics from Western Transportation Institute and other road ecology institutions on how safe wildlife crossings more than pay for themselves, often in less than a decade, because of the savings of avoided collisions.
- Also urge wildlife and transportation officials to study culverts and replace old, unsafe, stream-fragmenting ones with new designs that are more durable in the face of worsening storms and more permeable to wildlife movement (especially for fish and amphibians). (Remember that party scene from The Graduate where the friend of the young man’s parents says to him, If I can give you just one word of advice, young man, it is ‘plastics’. Well, now he might say instead ‘culverts’!)
- Talk with your family, friends, neighbors, and town officials about how to reduce the tragedy of roadkill. Presently, sadly, from the standpoint of wildlife, we are the Roadkill Nation. We ought to live more considerately and generously than that.
Where in our area are safe wildlife crossings needed? Many places, but we might reasonably begin with friendlier, more durable culverts on rural roads through forested habitats; with wider underpasses where Lakeshore Road and Route 22 cut through Split Rock Wildway; with broader spans and more natural vegetation where I-87 goes over streams, and with several wide overpasses across I-87 that can awaken motorists to road ecology even as they afford bears and bobcats and moose and other wide-ranging animals a safe way across the barrier.
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.