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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Deer Miss

Air Date: Week of March 14, 2014

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A lone buck (photo: bigstockphoto.com)

With no natural predators in the east US, the white-tailed deer population has ballooned, leading to numerous collisions with cars, that cost both lives and millions of dollars. Writer Mark Seth Lender had his own near collision on 1-95.

Transcript

CURWOOD: The passenger pigeon is gone, and with it, perhaps the resilience of trees that depended on the birds to transport their seeds. Humans also wiped out the wolf in much of America, and in the East where there are still no wolves, the population of their natural prey, the white-tailed deer, has exploded. Collisions between deer and cars result in at least 200 human deaths a year and many millions in damages. Writer Mark Seth Lender had his own potentially fatal encounter.

LENDER: Heading North on 95, I glance across the median and the southbound traffic on the other side, toward the woods. There is an opening there where the granite spreads like two gnarled fingers. The gap between holds a small pond sleeping now beneath new ice dusted with fresh snow, a flat white space. The trees rimming the pond, and the scrub that pokes up in bent and broken spokes are bare, and all around the brown-gray of early spring. Only the oaks still have their leaves, like old clothes held at the throat against the cold.



Four white-tailed deer in winter (photo: bigstockphoto.com)

On the rim, is a white-tailed deer. She steps out onto the ice, deliberate but unsure. Like a child learning to walk. She is heavy, and alone. Easily, she could go around. Instead she is risking her life and the life inside her. The ice is thin. If she falls, even if she does not go through and drown, she’ll break a bone. Yet this is the way she has chosen.

Driving on I keep thinking about her. How unsure she was - she understood the danger. Why didn’t she go around, skirting the shore? What was there behind her in the woods, real, imagined, both, that sent her on this desperate course? Or was it habitual and blind determination? Or only, an error in judgment.

Hard to know.

Some minutes later, on my way back, there she is by the road. Now I can see just how heavy she really is. She sticks out sideways like an oversized load. At first I thought she was here to graze. Deer may do that if they are desperate enough and this time of year that’s exactly what they are, desperate. But the grass at the shoulder is either not to her liking, or glazed over with ice. Or maybe there is too much road salt. Grazing animals usually like that but for some reason she does not. What she does like is on across 4 breakdown lanes and 4 lanes of cars and trucks and most of them doing eighty. And I can see, telegraphed by where she looks and the way she stands that she is going to go and that nothing is going to stop her.

And just like her without thinking, I flip on my lights and lean on the horn and head straight towards her and she bolts - I think towards the woods - and a semi tucks in behind me and I cannot see her.



A lone buck (photo: bigstockphoto.com)

The following morning, southbound on the highway coming home, I see at the same place where the deer crossed the ice another set of her tracks heading back the way she came. And only then it occurs to me, what if at the shoulder she’d run the wrong way? Another day she may do just that. But for yesterday and for now -

She Lives. I Live. We live.

CURWOOD: That's writer Mark Seth Lender.

 

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