Friday, April 04, 2008

Drive With Care: The Deer Are Everywhere.

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We went out earlier for dinner and just returned in time to write this piece. We had a lovely meal, and on the way home saw two or three splattered deer carcasses and saw many deer feeding along the edges of the road.

The thought of the number of animals killed by cars and trucks each year is staggering indeed. It got me to thinking of which critters are most likely to wind up on the statistical side of the wildlife ledger.

During the spring, summer and fall months there are four animals that are frequently seen dead along our highways. Perhaps the highest number of animals killed would be the raccoon. Years ago when I’d drive back and forth to the Detroit newspaper I worked for, there were always high numbers of dead coons. Sometimes in the spring there would be an old she-coon and half a dozen little ones that were too slow to dodge the oncoming traffic.

Second on my list of animal fatalities were opossum. The rat-like possum with his prehensile tail and hissing noise they make when confronted by a human seems to number almost as high as raccoons. The certainly seem to be slower afoot when it comes to dodging traffic.

Third on this list of critters killed by speeding cars and trucks would be deer. I haven’t checked the numbers of road-killed deer killed in 2007, and quite possibly the numbers haven’t been compiled yet, but in years past over 200,000 whitetails are killed by vehicles annually. Each year several people die in car-deer crashes. The cost to insurance companies is staggering.

Fourth on the list of road-killed animals would be skunks. Their stinky remains are not only a blood-smeared highway mark but the odor of skunk spray lingers on long after the animal dies. Sometimes the stink is squeezed out when the vehicle runs over their body, and others I think get off one last blast before being run down

Every year during the summer months I’ll see big snapping turtles obliterated by a passing vehicle. Bits and pieces of shell are scattered across the highway. Turtles are not fleet afoot, and I stop to let them complete their passage. One time I was stopped for a lumbering 25-pounder when a nitwit speedster wheeled past me and the car behind me, crushed the turtle and never slowed down.

Some black bear are killed as well. One year, five or six bears were killed on M-55 in one spot just a few miles west of Cadillac. It’s a famous north-south crossing point for black bears moving through the Mitchell Lake Swamp. Some may not mourn the loss, but I do.

Songbirds by the millions meet an untimely fate with traffic. In most cases, no one will swerve to avoid a bird only to cause a collision with another vehicle. I used to average 1,000 miles per week while on the road to cover my outdoor beat, and would often find the grisly evidence of songbirds in my grill and/or radiator.

Even the bird considered smartest of all—the wild turkey—gets splattered. Most often they flush into the air as a car or truck approaches within 50 feet and lays on the horn, and they often fly right into the windshield. The impact kills the bird and makes the purchase of a new windshield a necessity.

There is one animal that I’ve seen only one laying dead on the roadside. This animal is one that many people wouldn’t think of, and over the countless miles I’ve driven to see only a single specimen means one of two things.

It means the varying hare or snowshoe hare seldom crosses highways, and they seldom venture near a road. The only dead hare I’ve seen was killed along a paved road in western Alger County many years ago.

These animals are content to stay in their thick cover, and although they have a larger home range than a cottontail rabbit, most of their travels take place in heavy cover.

In fact, in all the years I’ve driven in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, I’ve yet to see a live snowshoe hare cross the road in front of me. They seem to know that crossing wide-open areas leaves them vulnerable to overhead predation by bald eagles, hawks and owls.

The carnage will continue simply because people refuse to slow down when in wild game habitat. They hit the speed limit, kick it up another five or 10 miles per hour, and refuse to worry about the extra gasoline they burn at higher speeds. Gas is very expensive these days, and driving too fast means wasted fuel and more dead critters.

Now me, I’m old enough to be a bit of a curmudgeon and a rebel as well, and I drive slow all the time. I look for critters on both sides of the road, and them that don’t care for me driving the speed limit, can pass. Who knows, perhaps the police will pick them up on radar, and that will force them to slow down.

One can always hope that some of these thoughtless people would get the message.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/04 at 06:43 PM
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