Every 11.5 seconds in the U.S., an animal becomes road kill. On Sunday, May 27 2007, one of those animals was Bear #36. He met his end on I-84 in Union. Like 50% of wildlife-vehicle collisions, this one was not reported to the police. However, Jason Hawley, a Wildlife Technician with the CT DEP, said the bear died of massive hemorrhaging to his lower internal organs as a result of a vehicle strike.
Bear #36’s exploits around the Quiet Corner focused on a quest for food. Hawley said the necropsy (an autopsy of an animal) revealed a belly full of birdseed and acorns. Nancy Cormier, one of the owners of Wild Bird Crossing in Sturbridge MA, said they got quite a bit of business from Bear #36 as he bent, mangled, or shredded his way through local birdfeeders. The Cormier’s also got a personal visit from him in December 2006 when he raided their bee hive in Holland.
When Bear #36 died, he was 5.8 feet long from nose to tail, and was otherwise in excellent condition. He weighed 313 lbs., up from 175 lbs. when he was first tagged a year ago in Orange. During those twelve months, he roamed up through Meriden to Woodstock to Sturbridge and then back to Woodstock, Ashford, and finally Union.
Bear #36 peers through a window in Sturbridge, MA. Around midnight the Kenyons heard a terrible racket, and it was not Santa Claus. Birdseed was stored outside in a 30 gallon galvanized trashcan. The bear had dragged the can across the porch, and was sitting with the bag in his lap, eating the seed. He was unphased by the porch lights, but when the local police showed up, he took off like a shot to the neighbors, where he proceeded to empty their feeder. This photo by Bill Kenyon was taken the following evening on November 29, 2006. The bear returned even though the birdseed container had been moved inside.
Paul Rego of the DEP says that about ten bears are killed on CT highways each year. Last April, a 150 lb. black bear died trying to cross I-84 in Waterbury. Collisions with large animals are increasing as human, bear and deer populations rise. Our ever expanding transportation system has surrounded wildlife habitat with asphalt moats. Black bears are usually averse to crossing highways, but sometimes must navigate across them to find food, water, cover or a mate.
Animal-vehicle collisions pose a serious hazard to vehicle occupants year round, but tend to peak in summer and fall. Nationwide, about 4% of reported motor vehicle crashes result from hitting an animal – usually a deer. Numbers are considerably higher in rural areas. Most motorist fatalities and injuries occur when drivers swerve to avoid hitting the animal and then smash into a tree, guardrail, or another vehicle. These accidents also cause property damage. The average minimum cost of repairing a car that hits a deer is $2,000.
The best way to avoid creating road kill and hurting yourself or your passengers is to drive the speed limit. The slower you go, the more time you will have to react. Always wear a seatbelt and insist that your passengers do also. Stay focused on the road and your surroundings. This is especially important at dusk or dawn, when visibility is low. Areas where the road intersects creeks or drainage can be particularly risky since they attract animals in search of water. Long, wide stretches of road may be the most hazardous, as they increase driver confidence, speed and daydreaming.
At night, use your high beams when no traffic is approaching. Never over-drive your headlights. If you do spot an animal beside the road, slow down, as it may bolt suddenly. Stay vigilant even after you see a deer cross the road, as they often travel in groups.
If a collision seems imminent, the best course of action is to brake firmly, but continue straight ahead. If you swerve, the animal might get confused about where to run, and you might hit something else or even rollover. If you do hit an animal, don’t touch it. If it is still alive, it may behave in unpredictable ways due to shock. Get your vehicle safely off the road and report the accident to local authorities.
Some states are experimenting with mowing, underpasses or green bridges, and fences to decrease collisions and wildlife losses. Wildlife crossing warning signs can alert drivers. But thoughtful road design is the ideal way to increase human and wildlife safety. The best design minimizes fragmentation of important habitat, allowing us to safely share the road with our fellow travelers.
Zimmerman is a Certified Environmental Professional and member of the Woodstock Conservation Commission.
NOTE: NEVER attempt to attract bears for viewing by putting out food. They are wild animals, and may behave in unpredicable ways, especially if they feel cornered. As they say, "a fed bear is a dead bear," and may have to be destroyed.