I suppose it was inevitable. After years of living in the mountains, I'd seen enough to know it was a matter of time, no matter how careful I was. Still, I hoped I could escape.
It was dark, and raining, but that's no excuse. I saw the blur in the corner of my eye -- a few erratic stops and starts on the shoulder -- and thought the animal had decided against crossing. I was wrong, and because I was late I did not slow down. The thump and crunch were sickening, not least because right before I hit it, I saw the little skunk run toward the road again -- and knew it was too late. "I'm so sorry, baby," I told it, wishing desperately for a different outcome.
One skunk more or less may not seem significant, but I'd just contributed to the estimated one million vertebrates killed on U.S. roads each day -- one every 11.5 seconds. This includes wildlife from mice to moose, endangered species and household pets. One study estimated 41 million squirrels, 26 million cats, 15 million raccoons, 6 million dogs and 350,000 deer are killed by vehicles in the U.S. each year. And that doesn't include many other casualties. Orphaned young animals, likely to die without their mother, aren't counted either.
Human injuries and deaths result too, and pricey damage to vehicles. Average repair cost after colliding with a deer is $2,000. Fencing, culverts and wildlife crossings can reduce roadkills, and high-tech detection and warning solutions may help in the future, but awareness and reducing speed are still the best bets for avoiding these tragic incidents.
Slow down, especially around dawn and dusk, and be watchful -- especially during fall mating season and in spring, when wild babies are born. It's a lesson I know I've taken to heart.