Wildlife agencies demand death for killer deer
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1998:
SHEBOYGAN, Wisc.; McLEAN, Va.;
AKRON, Ohio; LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga.– – A n
appealing victim, a shocking death, and public outrage,
any prosecutor knows, are the prerequisites to win capital
Around the U.S., wildlife agencies are pressing
the case for more hunting, allegedly to kill back
suburban deer herds––and incidentally, to encourage
hunters who may not wish to go farther afield than
around the corner from a beer store.
No longer is the kill-the-deer ammunition limited
to complaints about azalea-nibbling. Now the claim
is that deer kill people. Among the recent dead were
Kali Hancock, 12, and Wanda Schultz, 32, both of
Hancock at 2:45 a.m. on November 29, 1997
lay asleep in the back of her mother Imani Weusi’s sport
utility vehicle. Weusi swerved to avoid a deer, the
vehicle rolled, Hancock was thrown out, and the vehicle
then fell on top of her. Schultz was killed in June
1997, not far away, when a deer hit by another car
crashed through her windshield.
The Schultz accident was reprised in McLean,
Virginia, in October 1997, when school librarian
Sheryl W. Czepluch, 49, was killed the same way.
In both Sheboygan and McLean, the immediate
response was a public demand, amplified by
hunters, that more deer be shot.
Similar pressure developed in June 1997
around Akron, Ohio, after Beverly Munn, 17, hit a
deer near Sharon Woods, already the scene of controversial
deer culls, and swerved in front of a truck.
Outrage rose in Lawrenceville, Georgia, after
Brandon M. Thomason, 19, was killed in October 1997
while trying to help victims of a deer/car accident.
Kathy Cole of Lansing, Michigan, however,
didn’t leave the talking to wildlife officials on the first
anniversary of the deer/car crash death of her husband.
Cole appealed to the public not for bloodshed but for
safer driving. Sheriff’s Department sergeant Paul Cole
was killed in October 1996, when he hit a deer while
responding to a domestic violence report.
On average, deer/car crashes kill about 100
humans per year in the U.S.––roughly the same number
as hunting accidents, but drivers usually drive every
day, while hunters typically hunt only 17 days a year.
Comparing driving hours to hunting hours, driving is
approximately 273 times safer.
Finding the fix
Hundreds of special suburban hunts have been
pushed through during the past several years, especially
bowhunts, favored by public officials because the
shooting is quiet. But the approval process rarely is,
with deer hunting and culling proposals currently under
fire––and often before the courts as well as legislative
bodies––in almost every state east of the northeast,
midwest, and Atlantic seaboard.
Massacring the quasi-tame deer who inhabit
suburban parks and highway divider strips rarely sits
well with the non-hunting public, especially as awareness
grows that deer numbers are as high as they are
because state wildlife agencies have aggressively promoted
herd growth over the past 50 years in order to sell
more deer hunting permits. Buck hunting has been
pushed and doe hunting discouraged to the point that the
wintering herd in most states consists mainly of females,
each of whom may bear two fawns. Until the natural
1/1 gender balance of the herd is restored, killing bucks
does not lastingly diminish the deer population––and
two or three does would have to be killed for each buck,
just to keep herds at their present size.
Experiments with deer contraception, banned
in Illinois by hunting lobby pressure, show most
promise as a longterm nonviolent technological fix. Six
years of experimentation with a captive deer herd at
Rutgers University in New Jersey have reportedly gone
well, except that 19 of the 32 deer involved were killed
by malignant catarrhal fever, a form of herpes transmitted
from sheep who were kept at the same facility.
Other contraceptive experiments are already underway
in the wild––notably at Fire Island, New York, since
1993, and at Point Reyes National Seashore,
California, where in August 1997 the National Park
Service implanted contraceptive capsules in 20 tule elk.
The latter is a test of symbolic as well as practical
import. A spectacular early failure of ungulate contraception
occurred in 1984-1985 at nearby Angel Island,
under jurisdiction of the California Department of Fish
and Game, and has been cited ever since by hunting
advocates as “proof” that contraception is impractical.
While contraception should eventually lower
deer numbers, there remains the problem of preventing
deer/car collisions. Car-mounted whistles meant to
warn deer away from roads were popular during the
1980s, but indpendent testing indicates that they have
little value once deer have heard them several times.
Fencing deer away from roads works but is prohibitively
expensive, as well as tending to trap deer in areas
where they aren’t wanted.
The Fund for Animals energetically promotes
Strieter-Lite reflectors, claiming they have been used
successfully in 17 states since 1973, and that use in certain
Washington and Minnesota communities has cut
deer/car collisons by 90%. Strieter reflectors have
reportedly also worked well in Hancock and Defiance
counties, in Ohio. Impressed, Hudson, Ohio, near
Akron, recently spent $6,300 to test the reflectors along
a mile of road where deer/car crashes are especially frequent.
But the Maryland-National Capital Park &
Planning Committee refused an offer of $5,000 from
The Fund to undertake a similar experiment, and
Easttown, Pennsylvania, claims to have had more
deer/car crashes last year with reflectors than before
they were installed.
No longer a joke
Though deer/car collision frequency had
already doubled nationwide in only five years, roadkills
were scarcely an issue as recently as 1992. Jokesters
discussed roadkills more often than policy-makers.
Then a November 1992 ANIMAL PEOPLE
cover feature suggested most roadkills could be prevented,
if the public could be taught to recognize the usual
road behavior of the most often hit species.
Since then, we’ve widely distributed a roadkill
avoidance tipsheet via the Internet, including to all
online fellow members of the Society of Environmental
Journalists, many of whom have amplified the advice.
The Ark Trust and the North Shore Animal League have
issued many of the tips as public service radio spots.
Almost simultaneously, science teacher
Brewster Bartlett of Pinkerton Academy in Essex, New
Hampshire commenced the well-publicized Dr. Splatt
roadkill censuses, done each spring since 1993 by middle
school students across the U.S. Undertaken to teach
computer skills, the counts have also raised awareness
of roadkills among a generation of young drivers.
Now roadkills of all sorts, not just deer, are
getting serious attention, albeit with substantial regional
variation in style.
Massachusetts recently took a low-budget but
practical approach, requiring late last year that dogs be
restrained when riding in open trucks.
Vermont put saving a family dairy farm first
in building an 80-foot, $200,000 tunnel so that the
Bickford family of Marshfield could safely drive their
Holsteins across a highway for milking. The Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Department is also revising policy on
roadkill pickups. Currently, drivers who hit large animals
must notify a game warden, who may either
authorize the driver to remove the carcass or go out to
collect it. The object is to keep poachers from asserting
that dead wildlife found in their possession were discovered
on the road. But 39 state wardens and 55 part-time
wardens have charged the department $750,000 over the
past five years in overtime pay for picking up the
remains of 13,560 deer, 582 moose, and 143 bears.
In southern California tax revolt country, the
Topanga town council is soliciting donations from residents
to fund warning signs at turtle crossings on a
mountain highway that divides habitat of the threatened
western pond turtle.
In Nowell Township, New Jersey, contruction
of a long-awaited bypass has been stalled since
October 1997 by the discovery that endangered bog turtles,
jeopardized by roadkills, were known to inhabit
part of the seven-mile route as of 1978. The bypass was
originally to have been built in 1965.
Florida is looking at a $2.6 million set of barriers
alongside U.S. 441 through Payne’s Prairie State
Preserve, to prevent the roadkill loss of about 100,000
animals per year––mostly small amphibians whom protected
bird species depend on for food.
Pierce County, W a s h i n g t o n, has proposed
building a $2 million overpass to avoid roadkills of
threatened western gray squirrels along a freeway connector
which would run between Fort Lewis, the squirrels’
last known habitat west of the Cascades, and
McCord Air Force Base.
The West Virginia legislature, amended state
law to permit residents to take possession of dead
wildlife out of season if the meat is fresh, is roadkill,
and the acquisition is reported to a wildlife officer within
12 hours. Under the old law, the discovery of an
edible carcass was to be reported first, as in Vermont.
Roadkill scavengers complained that the resultant delay
often allowed meat to spoil.
Michigan tried to get hunters to volunteer for
roadkill removal duty, both to prevent accidents when
cars hit fallen deer and to protect bald eagles, often
killed as they scavenge deer carcasses.
“Road agencies have the primary responsibility
to keep the roads clear,” responded Michigan United
Conservation Clubs executive director Rick James.
“I’m not going to get roped into that.”