JULIA BAYLY

Calling all cyclists: Roadkill counters needed

Posted Feb. 02, 2017, at 12:48 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Admittedly, I am somewhat of a science nerd and captivated by the natural world.

And, as readers of this column know, I’m also an avid cyclist.

So, imagine my delight when a post on the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Facebook page popped up the other day about an ongoing project by the non-profit Adventure Scientists looking to involve cyclists in collecting scientific data.

Now, at this point, I should also note that in addition to being a science nerd and cyclist, I also possess what my dear friends have been known to describe as a somewhat twisted sense of humor.

So, when I saw that the study, in fact, wants cyclists to document sightings of animal roadkill spotted on rides well, it just got funnier the more I thought about it.

According to its website, Adventure Scientists envisions “a world where a grassroots wildfire of scientific advancement creates a balance between people and the environment.”

To that end, they match volunteer outdoor enthusiasts who can collect data from otherwise hard to reach areas for researchers.

That’s not to say the highways and byways of places like Maine are exactly “hard to reach,” — though anyone who has driven north on U.S. Route 11 in a February blizzard may argue that point — but let’s be honest: Who better to document roadkill than those of us who pedal those roads?

In this particular study, the group is matching the volunteers with researchers at the University of California-Davis Road Ecology Center to record roadkill observations to determine which species are affected and when, wildlife travel patterns, whether roadkill hotspots exist and how to reduce vehicle-caused animal deaths.

I’m in.

And hoping to recruit some of my fellow cycling peeps.

Goodness knows, we have the experience.

My cycling friend Penny McHatten, for example would be a great volunteer for the project.

“Skunks, we see lots of [dead] skunks in the summer,” she said. “One time I was attempting to climb that last hill on the Chapman Road in Presque Isle on a hot summer day using all my gears and my best breathing techniques and there in the middle of my lane was a dead skunk. How do you hold your breath, pedal and go uphill?”

Another cycling friend Alan Jenkins, who moved to Colorado a few years ago, would be another excellent candidate as he is learning a lot about the differences between Maine roadkill and Colorado roadkill.

“I was head down, cruising on a relative flat and came across [a bull snake] that looked like he tried to cross the road and lost his noggin while on the white line,” Jenkins said. “He was about six feet long but what alarmed me was he was about as thick as my calves [and] after only seeing little garter snakes in Maine, this was huge.”

I’ve certainly had my own roadkill experiences seeing everything from dead chipmunks to evidence of moose-vehicle collisions as I ride around northern Maine.

On several memorable occasions, I’ve been the perpetrator of wildlife casualties, like the time a squirrel ran directly in front of my bike and I could not stop or swerve in time to avoid him.

The resulting impact and carnage haunts me to this day.

Down at the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Frank Gallagher, communications director, said his group was happy to help spread the word about the roadkill project.

“These scientists are looking for the best data they can find,” he said. “They know cyclists will provide that [because] cyclists see a lot that you don’t see from a car.”

At the same time, Gallagher, a Maine native and former bicycle messenger in San Francisco, said the study is an important reminder that vehicles are out there and we must all share the road.

“The roadkill study is important,” Gallagher said. “But from the coalition’s perspective there are also cyclists and pedestrians killed on our roads and we are always working to make Maine better and safer for walking and riding.”

That is something certainly every rider and driver can get behind.

As for the roadkill survey? Count me in.

Interested cyclists can sign up on the Adventure Scientists webpage at www.adventurescience.org/

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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