The Country Life: When cars and wildlife collide

By Bill Radford Published: December 3, 2013 | 7:20 am 0

It was 6:30 on a recent Friday night and I was just a few minutes from home when the deer leaped out of the darkness and in front of my car. I hit my brakes, but it was too late; vehicle and animal connected with a loud, shocking bang.

I pulled my car, a brand-new Subaru Forester, over to the side of the road to check on it and the animal. It was too dark to assess damage to my car, but damage to the deer, which was now by the side of the road, was clear as it struggled to get on its feet.

By happenstance, an off-duty Colorado Springs police officer was driving by the other direction just as the accident happened. She wanted to know if I was a hunter, if I had ever killed an animal.

No, was my answer. So she got out her handgun and shot the animal twice to end its suffering. Shaken, I drove home where my wife - and soon after, the Colorado State Patrol, which we called - pointed out I would need to file an accident report and that I should not have left the scene. My wife and I drove back to the accident site and met a trooper there. And discovered, to our horror, that the deer, a young doe, was still not dead. The trooper got out his shotgun and this time the creature was put out of its misery.

Certainly, country roads are not the only killing fields when it comes to vehicle-animal encounters. Deer were more plentiful in my tree-lined neighborhood in Colorado Springs than they are in my area in the country. While I would occasionally see a dead animal in the street in the Springs - a skunk, someone's cat - it's a daily occurrence on the country roads I travel.

In Texas, where I lived many years ago, the bodies of armadillos littered the roads. In my neighborhood now, in eastern El Paso County, rabbits appear to be the most common roadkill.

Across southeastern Colorado, the bodies of nearly 600 animal carcasses were reported to or discovered by Colorado Department of Transportation workers last year. Among the casualties: 433 deer, 21 elk, four bears, five foxes and 48 unknown.

"It's just one of those hazards that come primarily with highways in the rural areas," said Bob Wilson, a spokesman for CDOT. And, of course, those numbers are only a small part of the picture as they only apply to state roads. And then there are the animals who are struck and killed and never found. An animal might end up in a ditch, Wilson said, and become dinner for other animals.

"It's sort of like a rock fall," Wilson said. "We don't know every rock that comes down."

My deer encounter, which resulted in a gashed bumper and dented side panel on the Forester, came during a prime month for such accidents. With daylight saving time ending and darkness falling earlier, Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued a warning to motorists at the start of November to be vigilant at dusk. Deer are especially vulnerable to getting hit in November because it is the peak of their mating season. "They are more mobile, easily distracted, and more likely to be chasing one another across roadways," Colorado Parks and Wildlife Watchable Wildlife Coordinator John Koshak said in the release, which advises drivers to immediately report a vehicle-wildlife collision to local law enforcement and call 911 if there are any human injuries. (If you come across an animal carcass on a county road in El Paso County, you can call 520-6891 to have it removed.)

If you want to make use of the animal you struck, you can apply to Parks and Wildlife for a permit to harvest it. "The goal is to keep the animal from going to waste if some portion of the animal is still edible," Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

In my case, the trooper who took my report volunteered to report the body to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide. So hopefully hungry wolves got to benefit from the accident.

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Bill Radford and his wife live in the countryside east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @bill radfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/

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