It's a birdy job, but someone's gotta do it
December 4, 2017 6:12 PM   Subscribe

"In an era of tight budgets, why don’t we just drag deer off to the side of the road—far enough away so that scavengers don’t become roadkill themselves—and then let the scavengers and decomposers provide their clean-up services for free? Why do we dedicate so much time, money, and sheer physical exertion to transforming carrion into trash?" Jonathan L. Clark, for Discard Studies: Consider the Vulture: An Ethical Approach to Roadkill. (Includes photos of roadkill).

From Hawk Mountain: Know your turkey vultures.
posted by MonkeyToes (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I would guess part of the issue is that 'far enough off the road' may very well be someone's property, rather than state land. There's also the issue of distracting drivers if you aren't pulling them far enough to be concealed from the road, which is also more likely to hit the property lines issue.

It's a good idea in principle, just don't know that it would work in a lot of areas.
posted by tavella at 6:17 PM on December 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

In Connecticut I believe the state collects all of the roadkill animals so they can check for rabies, compile statistics and (presumably) take appropriate action. Which is a good thing.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:18 PM on December 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Why stop with roadkill? What about dead humans?
posted by mondo dentro at 6:27 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

“Welcome to Roadkill Cafe, You Kill It! We Grill It!!!!”
posted by Fizz at 6:30 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I harvest roadkill deer and wild pigs in California. It can be done safely, but you have to know a few things.

DM me if you want guidelines.
posted by andrewpcone at 6:31 PM on December 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

57 vultures hanging around mean you should be well off the road.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2017

As a runner who runs on some rural-ish roads that have plenty of road kill on them, please, no.

Around here the "far enough off the road" criteria that tavella mentions would definitely be an issue, since what I run past is either farmland or posted woods. And a driver can maybe deal with this from a car when they're going past at 35+ miles an hour and have, y'know, windows between them and the carcass and any scavengers, but it's a lot more unpleasant when you're going slower and closer (And potentially, dangerous: I'd rather not have to fend off a fox, thanks--The turkeys and geese are bad enough.)
posted by damayanti at 6:43 PM on December 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm okay with my country paying people to do this.

Here's a poem:

I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, 'My dear bird, we are wasting time
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.' But how
he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life
after death.

by Robinson Jeffers
posted by Caxton1476 at 6:51 PM on December 4, 2017 [31 favorites]

Huh, around here (I'm in rural ontario), whoever next comes across roadkill gets out their shovel and tosses the carcass in the ditch (road allowances are wide so usually there is a good ten feet between the gravel road and the farmer's fence (if there is one). If you hit roadkill you can legally bring it home to eat (or give it away, if you don't like game) if you register it with MNR. I love seeing the turkey vultures circling around in the sky. I have never seen one as roadkill so they seem to get out of the way fast enough, with their slow hops and baleful glares. It totally seems a waste to throw them in the dump.
posted by saucysault at 7:16 PM on December 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

You can't get fresher or more local than something you've hit yourself.

Where I live, you can do this:

Keep a dead wild animal

The rules for keeping a dead wild animal that you have found, bought, imported, received as a gift, possessed before its death or killed to protect property. This includes roadkill.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:17 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd rather not have to fend off a fox, thanks-

You're probably safe. Unless you're a chihuahua.
posted by srboisvert at 7:22 PM on December 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

I used to work for an archaeological lab in PA where we had roadkill permits for things like raptors, bears and other animals that people otherwise weren't allowed to hunt. We used dermestid beetle colonies to prepare specimens for comparative collections so that if bone fragments were found on archaeological sites we had a known set of animals to compare them too, to identify them. The state police would occasionally call us (or bring us stuff!) if they found something cool since we were the only people in the area with the permits. If we had to go get something we had to bring the permits with us. If the police pulled you over and you had one of those animals without the permits there were serious consequences (including jail time) even if you had legitimately accidentally hit an animal. The idea was to discourage people from going after animals that were illegal to hunt and then claiming it was roadkill. (Also don't put a sea lion in your trunk..even double bagged).
posted by DarthDuckie at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2017 [14 favorites]

ZenMasterThis, I grew up in CT and remember one of my classmates saying that her mom was on the DMV's list to take deer carcasses -- people were in a queue for free venison. So if I remember correctly, this means all the public health work must happen pretty quickly? (or they have deer fridges?)
posted by batter_my_heart at 7:38 PM on December 4, 2017

andrewpcone: "I harvest roadkill deer and wild pigs in California. It can be done safely, but you have to know a few things."

Check local law; it's illegal here. Some places you can take road kill but only if you weren't the killer.
posted by Mitheral at 7:42 PM on December 4, 2017

I live in a rural section of PA. There are a lot of deer roadkilled in this part of the state. This afternoon, there were three dead deer on the 20-mile stretch of Lincoln Highway between my house and my work. (If you hit one and it's dead but not too beat up, you can keep it and eat it. Call the game commission -- there's a form you have to fill out. If you're in my neck of the woods and it's after dark on a Sunday, I know a guy with a meat saw and a stainless steel table in his garage who will quarter it for ya.) I knew that the PGC hired folks to pick up the bodies but I didn't know what happened to them after that.

I guess you could leave 'em beside the road where they died, but turkey buzzards ('vultures') are NOT SMALL BIRDS. They are quite large. You get about a flock of 'em when a dead thing starts to smell for-real like it's dead and I imagine that might distract a driver with a round of "What The Hell's That About?" as they went down the road.

Also, most folks don't like the smell of dead stuff and dead stuff stinks pretty well for a couple days, better 'n a week sometimes.
posted by which_chick at 7:48 PM on December 4, 2017

I've eaten roadkill. It was a moose, it jumped in front of a friend's pickup. He had to have NH state troopers fill out some forms so he could legally have it butchered without a hunting tag.

The pickup was totaled, we did not eat that.
posted by peeedro at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Check local law; it's illegal here.

Yeah yeah yeah, I realize. In fact, the game wardens will arrest you for it if they catch you ("unlawful method of take" or some such nonsense). In the middle of Plumas National Forest outside hunting season, you are more likely to stumble upon a grow op than a game warden, so eh.
posted by andrewpcone at 7:54 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

drag deer off to the side of the road—far enough away so that scavengers don’t become roadkill themselves

Before I'll even consider the argument of this article, it needs to define how far away from the road carcasses should be dragged and how that minimum distance should always be ensured. The vast majority of the predator and omnivore animals I've seen killed on roads were animals that were specifically attracted by the roadkill as food source, either to eat the carrion or eat the scavengers (mice, rats). The dead owls I see everywhere are particularly depressing.

Also, once the roadkill is dragged to a suitably far-away cafeteria area, what will be the long-term effects on survival and reproduction rates for scavengers that grow accustomed to a readily-available source of food that requires no energy to hunt? Isn't this kind of thing why people are discouraged from giving food to wild animals or leaving garbage where they can easily access it: so that animals don't grow complacent or start expecting humans to be associated with food? How does a convenient dead deer differ from a convenient picnic basket in that respect?
posted by nicebookrack at 7:58 PM on December 4, 2017

I thought this was what was actually done! In the 90s I came across a terrifying hellscape of dead deer- and turkey vultures- in Eastern Pennsylvania and assumed that it was where the state was dumping roadkill deer.
posted by metasarah at 8:03 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, small roadkill is eaten quickly by scavengers out here, I've nearly hit a vulture who didn't move fast enough. But I heard a local radio station discussing this one time and the county or whoever picks up the deer then distributes them to the needy for food, so I totally support that.
posted by threeturtles at 8:04 PM on December 4, 2017

I've spent way too many hours driving 2 lane highways in far western Montana and I can tell you I've seen bald eagles eating roadkill deer many many times.
posted by hippybear at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2017

When I toured our local wolf sanctuary a couple of years back our guide told us that they collect deer that have been hit on I-44 and run them down ziplines for the wolves to chase and "kill". Other than the pups, it's the one thing they won't let visitors see. It sounds gnarly, but it's actually kind of a cool, harmless way to do animal enrichment.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:42 PM on December 4, 2017 [20 favorites]

Check local law; it's illegal here.

Legal roadkill is actually somewhat common; according to the state department of wildlife website, about 20 states allow it. Washington State fairly recently changed the law to allow people to harvest roadkill: Dining on roadkill: Washington residents gather 1,600 deer, elk in law’s first year . I'd be ok with it if I was sure it was fresh and hadn't gotten hit so hard that it had been turned to mush.

The somewhat surprising part to me is that it isn't legal here to kill an animal that has been injured by a car, I presume to discourage poaching-by-car:

Only a law enforcement officer or individuals or entities authorized by the department may euthanize an animal injured in a motor vehicle collision, whether or not the animal is taken for salvage.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2017

Another concern for a place like here in Montana is that large animal carcasses can attract bears, who then become pretty territorial over their food cache. It's a danger to humans, to humans' cars, and to the bears themselves.
posted by traveler_ at 9:03 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Specifically those sorts of laws are so that people can't shoot an animal, run over it with their truck, then claim the reverse order.

andrewpcone: "Yeah yeah yeah, I realize."

Sorry that wasn't intended as a call out; just a note that the laws on collection vary.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have also enjoyed roadkill buffett. I have eaten goose, turkey, deer, and moose. In most of the Northeast USA, you call the cops and they give you a tag and you're free to take it away. I also have made a couple pelts from roadkill foxes and tanned the hide of the deer... a small bounty of civilization!
posted by danjo at 9:07 PM on December 4, 2017

One of my favorite John McPhee essays is 'Travels in Georgia'. It is a fascinating profile of Carol, a biologist & Sam who works for GA DNR and their interest in D.O.R. animals--Carol eats roadkill. It was in the April 28, 1973 New Yorker and is in the Pieces of the Frame collection.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 9:16 PM on December 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is the right idea at exactly the wrong time:
The origin and mode of transmission of the prions causing CWD is unknown, but recent research indicates that prions can be excreted by deer and elk, and are transmitted by eating grass growing in contaminated soil.[7][8][medical citation needed] Animals born in captivity and those born in the wild have been affected with the disease. Based on epidemiology, transmission of CWD is thought to be lateral (from animal to animal). Maternal transmission may occur, although it appears to be relatively unimportant in maintaining epidemics. An infected deer's saliva is able to spread the CWD prions.[9] Exposure between animals is associated with sharing food and water sources contaminated with CWD prions shed by diseased deer.[10]

The disease was first identified in 1967 in a closed herd of captive mule deer in contiguous portions of northeastern Colorado. In 1980, the disease was determined to be a TSE. It was first identified in wild elk and mules in 1981 in Colorado and Wyoming, and in farmed elk in 1997.[4][5][6]

In May 2001, CWD was also found in free-ranging deer in the southwestern corner of Nebraska (adjacent to Colorado and Wyoming) and later in additional areas in western Nebraska. The limited area of northern Colorado, southern Wyoming, and western Nebraska in which free-ranging deer, moose, and/or elk positive for CWD have been found is referred to as the endemic area. The area in 2006 has expanded to six states, including parts of eastern Utah, southwestern South Dakota, and northwestern Kansas. Also, areas not contiguous (to the endemic area) areas in central Utah and central Nebraska have been found. The limits of the affected areas are not well defined, since the disease is at a low incidence and the amount of sampling may not be adequate to detect it. In 2002, CWD was detected in wild deer in south-central Wisconsin and northern Illinois and in an isolated area of southern New Mexico. In 2005, it was found in wild white-tailed deer in New York and in Hampshire County, West Virginia.[11] In 2008, the first confirmed case of CWD in Michigan was discovered in an infected deer on an enclosed deer-breeding facility. It is also found in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Chronic wasting disease in North America
In February 2011, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported the first confirmed case of the disease in that state. The affected animal was a white-tailed deer killed by a hunter.[12]

CWD has also been diagnosed in farmed elk and deer herds in a number of states and in two Canadian provinces. The first positive farmed elk herd in the United States was detected in 1997 in South Dakota. Since then, additional positive elk herds and farmed white-tailed deer herds have been found in South Dakota (7), Nebraska (4), Colorado (10), Oklahoma (1), Kansas (1), Minnesota (3), Montana (1), Wisconsin (6) and New York (2). As of fall of 2006, four positive elk herds in Colorado and a positive white-tailed deer herd in Wisconsin remain under state quarantine. All of the other herds have been depopulated or have been slaughtered and tested, and the quarantine has been lifted from one herd that underwent rigorous surveillance with no further evidence of disease. CWD also has been found in farmed elk in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. A retrospective study also showed mule deer exported from Denver to the Toronto Zoo in the 1980s were affected. In June 2015, the disease was detected in a male white-tailed deer on a breeding ranch in Medina County, Texas. State officials euthanized 34 deer in an effort to contain a possible outbreak.

Species that have been affected with CWD include elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, and moose. Other ruminant species, including wild ruminants and domestic cattle, sheep, and goats, have been housed in wildlife facilities in direct or indirect contact with CWD-affected deer and elk, with no evidence of disease transmission. However, experimental transmission of CWD into other ruminants by intracranial inoculation does result in disease, suggesting only a weak molecular species barrier exists. Research is ongoing to further explore the possibility of transmission of CWD to other species.

By April 2016 CWD had been found in captive animals in South Korea; the disease arrived there with live elk that were imported for farming in the late 1990s.[1]
posted by jamjam at 9:23 PM on December 4, 2017

I harvest roadkill deer and wild pigs in California. It can be done safely, but you have to know a few things.

Something like 98% of the people I told that I had killed (what I think was) a javalina who was stupidly hanging out in the middle of a road right around a blind corner near Bradley wanted to know where the bacon was.

I mean, it occurred to me, but it wasn't my primary concern.
posted by flaterik at 10:28 PM on December 4, 2017

Killed by running over because I couldn't not. I didn't kill it because it was rude.
posted by flaterik at 10:29 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Actor #1: Shouldn't we bury him?

Clint: Why? Buzzards gotta eat too.

(Did I get that right? I better check youtube.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:34 PM on December 4, 2017

It wasn't a javelina. California's feral pig problem actually started in Monterey County.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:35 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

don't put a sea lion in your trunk..even double bagged

You don't wanna look in there.
posted by flabdablet at 11:13 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks elsietheeel! A couple people told me it was probably a javalina, but I just know it sure seemed piglike, large, and dead.

Also both of its tusks went through one of my (large, newish, all terrain) tires. I'm not sure how long they were since obviously only the broken off part was recoverable, and I didn't feel like carefully examining a dead pig in the middle of a dark road around a blind corner.
posted by flaterik at 2:21 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Roads have rights of way that can extend some width along them, so I don't know if private property is truly a huge issue, not to mention that if you have a farm or ranch you're going to get dead animals on your land fairly often. I mean yes, if the deer is hit near someone's front yard don't drag it into their begonias, but down into the weeds several feet from a highway shoulder seems like an ok plan.
posted by emjaybee at 4:50 AM on December 5, 2017

"Because of the smell?"

That's the answer. Dead stuff stinks.

I drive on 45 mph two-lane highways a lot, and at certain times of the year, whole areas stink
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:36 AM on December 5, 2017

Isn't this just normal? I have heard that in other parts of the country the roadkill gets picked up. But I am unaware of any common formal mechanisms here. If there is anything, it is conspicuously inadequate.

Dead deer rot on the roadside here. I suppose there are opportunists picking up some of the roadkill. But mostly it just rots. I see the same dead deer sitting on the road shoulders, swelling and then flattening out, and birds going after them. That's just what happens.
posted by elizilla at 6:59 AM on December 5, 2017

Okay here's another road-kill poem, like Jeffers's also pretty widely anthologized:
Traveling through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
So, that's a bit different - he rolled the carcass into a river, which is kinda yucky to me somehow.

I should also say that in every poetry seminar I took in college, road-kill poems were a thing and inevitably complained about in workshop.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Enough of the rural areas that I bike/run through stink badly enough from the manure and fertilizers at various times of the year. A dead carcas is gone so fast (even when running) that I don't consider it to be a concern.

I'm in Ontario and was planning to use next spring to start collecting raccoons and 'possums and the occaisional beaver for my wife and I to taxidermy. Well, thanks mefi, I now know that I need to register and let some officials now that I'm doing that.

Sadly collecting the dead animal will mean I have the same problem as the article; what to do with the skinned carcass? We have a raw-fed dog, but I'm not feeding him roadkill; particularly not raccoon or possum. We're specifically not supposed to put animal carcasses in our green bin and the trash is wasteful. We have a 50'x100' property and neighbors, so if we're bringing in 1-2 per week (based upon the "good quality" roadkill I've noticed on last years biking jaunts) that will be way more than my yard could handle ... and skinning something like that would take longer than I want to do at the side of the road. Maybe with practice I could get that time down, but I doubt I could do quality work in under 5 minutes.

This isn't ask, but any ideas beyond the every other week trash pickup?
posted by nobeagle at 8:11 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check around for a wildlife sanctuary nearby that rehabs carnivores?
posted by tobascodagama at 8:58 AM on December 5, 2017

In the UK it is illegal to cart off roadkill that YOU hit, but OK if you were following when it happened.
I used to use a fast road on a daily basis that passed through a "wild wood" that was part of a large wild estate.
Venison was a regular food in our house as many deer were killed.

The local garage did a roaring trade as well.
posted by Burn_IT at 3:28 PM on December 5, 2017

nobeagal, see if you have a local reptile group. They prefer to feed de-skinned carcasses to their animals. If you are interested in a cheap one-day taxidermy course, I really enjoyed Casual Taxidermy out of Hamilton/Toronto.
posted by saucysault at 4:25 PM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Related to andrewpcone's comments re: grow-ops; this is probably only an issue for those of us in rural NorCal, but I don't think I'd want to donate and/or touch any dead animal that was anywhere near a potential trespass grow location...the toxicants that are often used at those grow ops are terrifying.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:16 PM on December 5, 2017

saucysault my wife and I took that course about a month ago! My rat guards my kleenix box at work and I always get a nice smile looking over at her throughout the day.

I'll look for places local to call around for. The meat I will be picking up will be "I didn't see when this happened, so don't know how long this meat was sitting in the sun before I through it on my bike, but the animal looked in mostly good condition." along with unknown status about any parasites in the meat/carcass. This makes me suspect that most places would do a pass. Similarly to why I'm not considering feeding it to my own dog, which really would be the best and most simple solution... until he needs monthly deworming.
posted by nobeagle at 8:39 AM on December 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

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