Why waste money on road-killed deer?

One wonders why lawmakers like Wisconsin State Rep. John Nygren think the state owes every road-killed deer a solemn procession to the nearest landfill and a decent Christian burial.

Nygren didn’t like Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s idea to delete $700,000 from the Department of Natural Resources’ budget to remove dead deer from state roads and highways. Before Nygren and the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee restored the funding in April, Nygren said: “Wisconsin is a tourism state, especially as you get up north, and I think it does send the wrong message to have these decaying, disgusting deer along the side of the road.”

Deer that get killed while crossing state roads cost Wisconsinites about $700,000 annually in pick-up fees paid to private contractors.

Deer that get killed while crossing state roads cost Wisconsinites about $700,000 annually in pick-up fees paid to private contractors.

Hmm. I thought everyone wanted less government spending and more individual responsibility. Are road-killed deer such an affront to tourists that Wisconsin must allocate $350,000 of general-tax revenues and $350,000 of hunting-license fees to spare gentle souls such indignities?

Fees from hunting licenses cover about half the cost of removing dead deer from Wisconsin roads.

Fees from hunting licenses cover about half the cost of removing dead deer from Wisconsin roads.

Besides, the current program isn’t scraping, scrubbing and shoveling every road-kill from public view. Most drivers realize the tattered hides and bleached bones of winter’s road-kills are just so much flotsam from melting snowdrifts. If you don’t like it, quit tsk-tsking and get your eyes back on the road.

Plus, the governor wasn’t ignoring road-kills. He simply suggested the responsibility should rest with whatever local jurisdiction maintains the road, be it a city, town or county. In 2014, nearly 24,000 deer were removed from state roads at a cost of $687,500.

Wisconsin removes about 24,000 dead deer from its roads each year, but many other thousands are pulled or pushed into nearby ditches.

Wisconsin removes about 24,000 dead deer from its roads each year, but many other thousands are pulled or pushed into nearby ditches.

The guv’s plan sounded reasonable. It would put the onus on residents like Nygren. If he thinks his home county’s image is being besmirched by excessive road-kills, he could harangue local officials to adjust their priorities: “Won’t anyone think about the tourists!? Forget the speeding tickets and expired parking meters! Get those disgusting, decaying deer off the road!”

But if lawmakers really want to put the responsibility where it belongs, they’d task the guilty driver with removing the deer or dragging it from view. We don’t use taxpayer and hunting-license revenues to buy and operate tow trucks to pull motorists out of boggy medians or roadside snowdrifts. That’s on us, and it’s probably more expensive than a road-kill recovery service would be.

Why deviate from the government trend of “privatizing” public services by aiding and inspiring entrepreneurs? What would be more inspirational than a sheriff’s deputy explaining your options:

“Look, Mr. Johnson, this deer you just Goodyeared is legally yours. You can tag it and take it home, or you can hire Roger’s Road-Kill Retrieval & Stain Remover to take care of it for you. Or you can pay the county $200 for the ticket I’m about to write, and we’ll bill you for whatever Roger bills us for hauling away your deer.”

Only about 20 percent of road-killed deer in Wisconsin are kept and eaten.

Only about 20 percent of road-killed deer in Wisconsin are kept and eaten.

This might sound funny, but it’s a public service worth debating when the Wisconsin DNR returns in January 2017 with its analysis of the road-kill program’s cost-effectiveness. All that’s known now is that contracts for current road-kill services vary. Some pay contractors by the individual deer, some pay contractors by the season, and some contractors remove dead deer faster and more efficiently than others.

That’s also why the Wisconsin DNR has long declined to draw conclusions on deer populations based on road-kills. If road-kills and road-kill pickup duties were consistently reported and performed statewide, biologists could craft formulas that estimate herd sizes from road-kill data after factoring in road densities, vehicle numbers, habitat size and traffic volume.

But I digress. Here’s another reason why road-kills should be handled locally and individually: It’s consistent with the governor’s Deer Trustee initiatives, which make counties more responsible for deer management.

Judging by most county recommendations this winter, people want to maintain or increase their county’s deer herds. This desire will likely build the herd substantially in farm country, and increase deer-vehicle collisions in the years ahead. Therefore, the more we make citizens and local governments responsible for road-kills, the more likely they’ll pressure their County Deer Advisory Committees to control the herd and reduce accidents.

In turn, maybe county governments would join the DNR in encouraging more motorists to claim the deer and process it for food. Currently, less than one in five road-killed deer is kept.

But maybe the claim rate will soon increase anyway, thanks to a new customer service that starts in May. In recent years, motorists had to wait at the scene to receive a tag to claim the deer, or get permission to haul it to a law-enforcement office for tagging. The new call-in system will let them receive an electronic tag and confirmation number via their cell-phone.

If this new system works as claimed, it’s yet another reason for Wisconsin to make motorists responsible for deer they crunch. To remind us, the DOT could add these words to every deer crossing sign in the state:

“You Hit It, You Own It.”

Comments

  1. michael sweeney says:

    I’ve tried my share of salvaging road kill. Most of the time the guts are so busted up it is not worth the trouble . Just my opinion.

    Reply
    • I am a deer contractor for Southeast Wis, and I feel that Scott Walker has screwed us again and again, after taking repeat pay cuts to my job a deer pick up service for 7 year’s now and now am about to quit my pay is a joke 300. 00 to pickup interstate kills I have no profit from my job to show are just paying us to do there work for free basically, run up miles on vehicle, don’t pay on time, all ways later and later, I started at 3500 down to 2400 now down to 1300 won’t be able to continue at low rates now in 2016 a joke, can’t pay bills in time or profit but will spend the money they don’t need on other plans his pockets, I am making a statement to the state Representative John nygren on this issue we need more money to keep deer off roads contact me at to help get our funding back to us contractors, can’t pay rent this way you thank you Scott Walker for runing my life…….. Shawnkremsreiter@yahoo.com

      Reply
      • It costs more than $300 to pick up a carcass off the road?
        Just out of curiosity could you provide an itemized breakdown of your operating costs and what entails for you to remove a dead deer from the roadways?
        I only ask because I’ve assisted many people with road kill salvages and I really don’t see how you need more than $300 to pick up a dead animal off the side of the road.

        Reply

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