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Car and wildlife crashes peak in fall, but roadkill dinner can wait

Salvage rules expected in 2019
By Katie Frankowicz

The Daily Astorian

Published on November 1, 2017 9:49AM

A bald eagle vied with traffic on the U.S. Highway 101 near Chinook, Wash., last year after sighting a tasty roadkill possum.

Damian Mulinix/For EO Media Group

A bald eagle vied with traffic on the U.S. Highway 101 near Chinook, Wash., last year after sighting a tasty roadkill possum.

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Collisions between vehicles and wildlife peak in the fall, but drivers won’t get to harvest what they hit until 2019.

Ever since a rule passed earlier this year allowing drivers to keep roadkill deer and elk in the future, law enforcement and fish and wildlife officials say drivers frequently ask if they can salvage the animals now when they hit or encounter them on the state’s roads.

Doug Cottam, wildlife division administrator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said staff are still working to develop a safe and responsible roadkill salvage program that will discourage poaching. Draft rules will go to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for public comment before they are adopted. 

“A key thing is having a permitting process so roadkill salvage is tracked and a person can be contacted if something appears suspicious,” said Michelle Dennehy, a Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. Law enforcement will be a part of the rule-setting process, as well, she said, “and will likely have other suggestions.”

For now, roadkill will be taken care of the old-fashioned way.

Across Oregon, that means edible meat will be donated to local food banks when possible. In Clatsop County, it also means some carcasses may end up on a small parcel of land owned by the state near Perkins Lane in Warrenton. Neighbors have seen a number of deer and elk end up here, and at least one horse. In the past, the bodies would be covered with dirt and sand, but now Department of Transportation employees treat them with lime. 

Lou Torres, a Department of Transportation spokesman, said they monitor the site to make sure there are no contamination issues and “that nature is ‘helping’ us do the composting.”

“Without rendering plants, we don’t have much of a choice in most areas of the state,” he said.

The department does have a few actual roadkill composting facilities, mostly located in Eastern Oregon. The facilities must meet stringent criteria, be located away from homes and businesses, and have a source of water. The local Department of Transportation offices must have equipment on hand to turn the roadkill as it breaks down.

Getting the equipment is easy, Torres said. The other siting requirements are more difficult.

The highest density of wildlife versus vehicle incidents in Clatsop County occurs on the western border, along U.S. Highway 101, according to a map by the transportation department which shows the average number of wildlife collision incidents per mile. On the section of Highway 104 and Highway 101 between Warrenton and Cannon Beach, there have been anywhere from 13 to more than 35 incidents per mile from September 2009 through June 2017.

Collisions between wildlife and vehicles peak in October and November as daylight hours decrease and as deer and elk cross major highways to move from higher-elevation summer habitats to lower-elevation winter habitats, according to Fish and Wildlife. Deer are also going through their annual “rut,” or breeding season, at this time. 

Last October the Department of Transportation recorded 1,052 wildlife-vehicle collisions, and 1,160 such collisions in November. 

Vegetation growing close to a road and curves can hide wildlife from view, cautioned Oregon State Police Capt. Bill Fugate in a statement.

“Drivers who see an animal near the roadway should try to reduce their speed and be aware that other animals will often be crossing, too,” he said.

He also advises drivers to stay in their lane if possible, adding that “serious crashes involving wildlife are often due to drivers swerving to avoid hitting an animal.”


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