The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 5, 2014

Roadkill counter is an app for that splat

The dirty business of counting doe DOAs has gone high-tech, courtesy of a Utah State University team that developed a smartphone application to chart collisions between motor vehicles and animals.

The system could help reduce collisions that cause an estimated 200 human deaths and $8.4 billion in property damage annually nationwide, not to mention a whopping 1 million animal deaths per day, according to Daniel D. Olson, a Utah State wildlife biologist and lead author of a study released this week in the online publication PLOS One.

“We wanted to call it the Roadkill Reporter, but since we were working with the (Utah) Department of Transportation, we thought Wildlife Vehicle Collision Reporter would be a more tactful way to put it,” said Olson. “That’s what we came up with.”

Anyone who has hit a mule deer — the most commonly reported victim on highways in much of the Western U.S. — probably remembers the time and place of the encounter. But when Olson embarked on a doctoral thesis on roadkill, he found that data was far less precise.

“Everything was on paper forms and was being collected by many different individuals,” he said.

Olson’s team, which included state wildlife, transportation and mapping agencies and fellow Utah State researchers, spent about $34,000 to develop the smartphone and desktop application, linked to a database that can update constantly.

Then they took it on the road.

The state employees and contractors mapped 6,822 animal carcasses with an accuracy of about 15 feet, while the old method that relied on the nearest highway marker could be off by as much as 2,600 feet, the study found. Reporting and uploading data also took half the time on the smartphone system, the study found.

Researchers hope improved data will enable transportation planners to construct fences and wildlife crossings where they do the most good — both for motorists and wild animals.

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