Roadkill: A wasteful tragedy we shouldn’t ignore

Wildlife crossing sign

The swerve, the thud, the grimace … these all are parts of the dreadful algorithm of roadkill.

As we reported last week, October is one of the prime months for vehicle versus wildlife collisions in the Pacific Northwest. Autumn is mating season for our region’s black-tailed deer. With love in the air, traffic safety isn’t a top-of-mind issue for animals.

In the Lower Columbia counties, elk are the other main species of large game animal killed on highways. With hunters pressuring them, they too are especially jittery in the fall.

While state transportation officials make a safety-related effort to track collisions with large animals, statistics are harder to come by for the slaughter of small animals and birds on our roads. There can’t be many people who live here who haven’t at some point run over something — possums, rodents, coyotes, snakes, otters, owls, hawks — the sorry list goes on and on.

In Washington state alone, more than 1,000 human injuries and two fatalities are blamed on animal collisions each year, plus millions in property damage. Nationwide, a news report counts 200 human fatalities, 29,000 injuries and $8 billion in annual property damage.

Clearly, for all sorts of humane and pragmatic reasons, these collisions should be minimized. This should start with keeping more complete records about where animals are killed, including larger fur-bearing species and raptors. Improved signage, barrier fencing where appropriate, and creating alternate ways for animals to cross highways should all be considered in high-fatality zones.

Colorado recently enacted a law that treats posted wildlife-crossing zones like highway-construction areas, doubling fines for those who don’t slow down.

It’s worth noting that it is illegal for private citizens in Washington state to possess roadkill. The reasons for the ban on taking meat from road-killed animals are somewhat obscure, and perhaps should be reexamined. Waste is one of the many distasteful aspects of roadkill.

Washington and Oregon both have small composting programs in areas where roadkill rates are particularly high. If they prove useful and manageable, consideration should be given to locating them in all counties and publicizing their availability

We won’t ever eliminate roadkill deaths. The expense would be far too high. But after more than a century of vehicles killing innocent creatures, we should try harder than we have to curtail the suffering and uselessness associated with this carnage.

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