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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Road Kill

Air Date: Week of January 3, 1997

Idaho-based producer Jane Fritz tells of a recent car accident in which she killed an adult female deer, and her subsequent findings of how common an occurence this unintentional form of "hunting" is.

Transcript

FRITZ: On a night not long ago, under a full moon, I spooked 2 deer eating fallen apples in my yard. Their hooves beat escape into the frozen earth and my heart pounded as they leaped over the fence into the hay meadow, waving goodbyes with their white tails. Perhaps this pleasant encounter was some kind of -- reprieve.

CURWOOD: Jane Fritz is a producer who lives in northern Idaho. She wrote recently to tell us of some contacts she's had with the local deer population in and around her rural home. Some of the meetings have been happy ones; others less so.

FRITZ: A few weeks earlier, I killed my first deer. I wasn't hunting. I was driving my car a little too fast. Normally I'd be scanning the woodland banks and ditches for highway crossing deer. But on that evening, a doe appeared suddenly, and I hit her broadside. As I braked to a stop she spun, hit the car again, and came to rest motionless in the middle of the highway.

Approaching her, I could see she had been nursing this year's fawns. Her moonlit belly lay like a soft pearl on the blood-stained pavement. Her death devastated me. I can still see her dark eye open to the sky as she lay there. It begged for some human sensitivity to the ways of nature.

By the time the local conservation officer arrived it was too late. Burst blood vessels left not enough untainted meat to donate to some worthy cause. Instead, cougar, coyote, and raven would scavenge the remains. Talking with friends about the incident revealed that nearly every driver I know in rural north Idaho has maimed or killed a deer, and I began to wonder how many deer lose their lives each year to our highly mobile lifestyle. Idaho is a wilderness state. But what about places like Pennsylvania or Michigan that have more highways and more people?

Someone predicted their roadkill deer probably exceeded Idaho's legal hunting season take. I thought no way. But he was right. I did some research, and found that more than 46,000 deer were killed on Pennsylvania highways last year. In Michigan the figure was even higher. Drivers collide with deer 170 times a day. In 1995, 62,000 deer and 8 humans lost their lives.

I also learned that back east, dead deer are usually buried in mass graves or dumped in landfills. Here in Idaho, they are often given to food banks, church missions, or poor families. Even so, it seems like such a waste of life.

Since the accident, I've been more sensitive to the ways of deer. I religiously scan the roadsides, especially right after dawn and dusk, the times that deer are most active. If a single deer crosses my path, I expect others to follow, as they often travel in groups. I slow down at deer crossing signs. They signal migration routes, or places where the road kill is particularly high. And I find myself switching down to low beams, to give the animals a chance to escape, since bright headlights can blind and confuse them.

And I watch for their eyes. Since the accident, several deer already have gained an edge toward surviving me and my car. And last night driving home, I braked for an elk. Maybe there are just too many of us in our sleek, fast cars on the roads these days. Then again, maybe we simply need to open our eyes.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Producer Jane Fritz lives in the Idaho panhandle town of Clark Fork. She comes to us courtesy of member station KPBX in Spokane, Washington.

 

 

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