Montreal

Quebec's wildlife crossing prevents some — but far from all — animals from becoming roadkill, study shows

Concordia University researchers found 900 corpses of small animals along a stretch of Highway 175 over a four-year period — a number they believe could be reduced by improving the Transport Ministry's efforts to mitigate roadkill.

Concordia University researchers found porcupines particularly at risk: they're fearless and like open spaces

Foxes and porcupines were among the small- and medium-sized mammals that were killed along Highway 175, despite mitigation measures to try to protect them, a new study found.

A researcher studying measures taken to prevent wildlife from crossing the highway between Quebec City and the Saguenay says special animal crossings have been an effective tool, but more can be done to prevent smaller animals from becoming roadkill.

Jochen Jaeger, an associate professor of geography at Concordia University, co-authored the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Environmental Management.

He said when the Quebec Transport Ministry broadened Highway 175 between Quebec City and Saguenay, it built 33 wildlife crossings over a 68-kilometre section to mitigate the risk of wildlife being killed.  

There is fencing that extends 200 metres in each direction from the underpasses to encourage animals to use tunnels built under the highway, which range in size from 60 centimetres in diameter to two metres.

The intention was to encourage small and medium-sized animals use the underpasses and decrease the number of deaths.

"It's a super important, innovative step forward," said Jaeger. "A few more improvements would be great to make it even better."

Jaeger and his team looked at how many small- and medium-sized animals, such as foxes, porcupines and skunks, were killed on that stretch of highway over the summer months between 2006 and 2012.

The team found the bodies of nearly 900 animals, but Jaeger thinks there were significantly more that they didn't find.

Jaeger said his study is unique because it looked at where the animal bodies were found — most of which were at the end of a fenced stretch.

Porcupines fearless — and vulnerable

The study found that the mitigation measures worked better for some small animals than others, depending on the species.

Porcupines are at risk of becoming roadkill, researcher Jochen Jaeger said, because they like open spaces and they think their quills will protect them from all harm. (Kris Kiviaho)

"We found it worked pretty well for about half of the species that live in this area," Jaeger said.

For example, porcupines accounted for more than a third of the bodies found, whereas there was only one marten killed out of 900 animals.

Jaeger said that is likely because martens avoid open spaces, so they naturally steer clear of wider highways, whereas porcupines enjoy being out in the open — and they feel indestructible because of their natural defence mechanisms.

"They have these wonderful spines, they fear nothing in the world," Jaeger said.

A step in the right direction

Jaeger said the Transport Ministry deserves credit for building the animal underpasses and fencing along the highway, because small animals like porcupines and skunks don't pose much of a risk to drivers.

"Usually the ministry takes care of the large mammals, because they cause accidents, but medium sized and small mammals don't do that, so they are not a priority," Jaeger said.

"This was really exciting for us to see the Transport Ministry of Quebec moving forward with this experiment to see how well they are working."

He said the next step is to look at the hot spots on the highway — where roadkill counts are highest — and look into putting fencing or wildlife crossings there.

With files from Quebec AM

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