UC Davis maps deadliest roads for animals in California

UC Davis Road Ecology Center

Driving back from a weekend in San Francisco or Lake Tahoe? Be alert for wildlife on the roadways.

A UC Davis professor who tracks collisions between vehicles and animals found that in the Sacramento region, Interstate 80 between Davis and Sacramento, the stretch of road known as the Yolo Bypass, is a hot spot for wildlife deaths, along with Highway 50 near El Dorado Hills.

Statewide, Interstate 280 running up the San Francisco Peninsula had the highest number of vehicle-wildlife collisions in recent years, the report found.

Animals often attempt to cross highways that cut through open spaces, and some end up hit by passing traffic. Taking action in those areas could preserve wildlife and protect drivers, said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

Lower speed limits, warning signs and structures that promote safe wildlife crossings could help prevent road kill. In 2012, Caltrans installed a $1.6 million tunnel for safe animal passage along Highway 50 near the El Dorado Road exit, with 7-foot-tall fencing along the road stretching about 1,000 feet to guide animals into the tunnel.

“There are hundreds of places around the state with high rates of collisions,” Shilling said. He called for more action from Caltrans and said the projects would pay for themselves by reducing accident rates.

The ecology center’s 2016 report drew, in part, on data from the California Roadkill Observation System, which compiles accounts from more than 1,000 volunteers and other passers-by. Between 2009 and 2015, volunteers contributed more than 50,000 observations of wildlife-vehicle collisions to the website, according to the report.

In addition to roadkill sightings, researchers also took into account vehicle collision reports. In the 12 months leading up to February 2016, the California Highway Patrol and Caltrans recorded about 6,000 collisions involving wildlife along the state’s roads and highways.

In the Sacramento area, the report identified the Interstate 80 causeway over the Yolo Bypass as a major site for bird collisions. Deer collisions are frequent along Highway 50 between El Dorado Hills and Pollock Pines, and along Interstate 80 near Auburn.

In the Sierra Nevada, roadkill was spotted most often along state Highway 89 north of Lake Tahoe, and state Highway 49 in the foothills. Several reptiles were reported as casualties along state Highway 190 in Death Valley. And near Yosemite National Park, carcasses were found most frequently along state highways 120 and 140.

Robert Kuo: 916-321-1161, @therobertkuo