Yellowstone Reports

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Road Kill

Always sad, but sometimes informative...
by Dan Hartman

Aug. 24, 2011

Driving down the highway, we all see it. Road kill.  It’s an unfortunate byproduct of fast highway travel.   In some cases, it has even become the only population control of some species due to lack of historical predators.  Scavengers rely on road kill, and for all we know, it may show up on a menu now and then.  For me, road kill serves a different purpose.  Much like walking through the forest looking for wildlife sign, important information can be gained from what you see lying beside the road.  As sad and frustrating as it is to see, it gives notice of a species occurring in an area...or lack thereof.  For instance, I have yet to find a road-killed Bigfoot.  But I must admit I’ve also never come across a wolverine, fisher or lynx lying beside the highway.  But we all know these exist.  Still, populations must be extremely low or they would be hit now and then.

A couple of years ago I found a road-killed mink east of Cooke City.  I had never seen one in our area and figured they did not occur this high. Still there it was, and it was certainly not the only one.  Two springs ago, I discovered a dead boreal owl near Pebble Creek.  This was significant because it was May, which meant it was nesting nearby.   They were not known to nest East of the divide, especially this far South.  Because of this unlucky road-killed owl, I combed the area for sign and one year later discovered the first boreal owl nest to de documented in Yellowstone just two miles down the road.  Cindy and I once came across a road-killed badger that was carrying a snake.  Realizing it was bringing food to its den, we walked the sage nearby and found her orphaned kits.

Over the years I have made a habit of moving martens, owls and other seldom seen wildlife off the road and tossing then into the bushes. An animal or bird that spends it whole life trying to be invisible does not deserve to lie out in the open for the whole world to see.


Road Killed Great Gray Owl