Mountain lions face greater risk of becoming roadkill in wildfire’s aftermath, study says
This year’s fires, coupled with human encroachment, have caused a significant rise in roadkill on two California highways. At least 7,500 people have died in wildfires this year, making it the deadliest season on record for California fire and the deadliest ever for motorists in the United States.
As the California Highway Patrol continues to investigate the cause of last month’s deadly crash on Highway 49 that killed three drivers, investigators in August found the animal wasn’t the only creature killed in a fatal pileup with a semi. Mountain lions were killed just weeks before that fiery crash on the road between the cities of Santa Rosa and Watsonville.
Those deaths occurred following two wildfires that swept across the Pacific Coast in early August. The last big fire in California was in Sonoma County in August 2011, when the Kincade Fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures and killed two people. The deadly Kincade Fire also left thousands of animals stranded and destroyed dozens of homes.
While the Kincade Fire isn’t the only deadly wildfire on record to end with several animals dying due to road damage, they’re just the latest in a string of losses that include a mountain lion in the summer of 2014, a California sea lion in 2015, a California sea otter in 2016, California porcupine in 2017, a California coyote in 2018 and a California gray wolf in 2019.
In the aftermath of the Kincade Fire in 2011, two mountain lions were found dead on the road at the same time.
“They’re such an important species in the ecosystem,” said Peter Marler, an environmental planner who has studied collisions between vehicles and wildlife for over 25 years. “If you look at their population, it’s the largest of any wild animal in the world and it’s in decline.”
The latest collision is yet another reminder of just how vulnerable mountain lions are to wildfire dangers.
“It’s a great tragedy when a single animal’s life is ending — and that’s what happened here on