Rules of the Road

Deer stop at a red light before proceeding off the roadway at Mellen Street and Airport Road Monday afternoon in Centralia.

Earlier this month the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a warning to drivers in the Evergreen state — beware of frisky deer.

The combination of the seasonal mating rut of wild ungulates and the arrival of additional darkness during waking hours means that vehicle versus animal collisions are most likely to happen in the coming weeks.

“Your risk of colliding with a deer on rural and suburban roads is much higher during November,” explained Brock Hoenes, WDFW deer and elk section manager, in a press release. “Deer have started their mating season so their behaviors and movements are atypical in ways that make them very risky for motorists. For example, deer are less afraid of crossing a roadway and may be oblivious of their need to evade an oncoming vehicle.”

According to a WDFW press release, State Farm insurance data showed that 1 out of 258 drivers in Washington hit a deer, moose, or elk during the last year. Repair costs for each incident came in at more than $4,000.

But a change in state law a few years back means that not of all those grill-killed deer and elk have been a complete loss. Since 2016, Washington law has allowed for the salvage of deer or elk that die of an accidental collision with a motor vehicle. However, deer are not eligible for harvest in Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum counties in order to protect an endangered population of Columbian White-Tailed deer. 

So far more than 6,000 permits have been granted across the state. Central Washington is leading all regions with roughly 2,200 roadkill salvage permits on file but Southwest Washington is the unrivalved runner up with at least 1,600 road-rashed ruminants finding their way into a freezer.

Like a roadside butcher with a bull elk on the business end of a Buick we can break those numbers down even further. Specifically, there have been 443 salvage permits issued in The Chronicle delivery area alone. Hotspots for incidental highway hunting range from the fringes of the Capitol Forest to the I-5 corridor through the Twin Cities, and all the way out to White Pass.

The roads connecting Toledo, Onalaska and Napavine have set the pace with 80 salvage permits granted in the most recent report. The areas adjacent to the I-5 corridor between Napavine and Grand Mound accounted for another 76 permits, as did the South Thurston County bubble between Tenino, Littlerock, and Rochester. The stretch of Highway 12 from east of Morton to west of White Pass accounted for another 74 salvage permits. 

It should be noted that it is inherently dangerous to strike a large animal with a motor vehicle. Moreover, state law stipulates that only animals that are killed by accidental collisions may be harvested. With those factors in mind the WDFW provided a list of precautions that drivers can take to avoid animal collisions, including:  

• Slow down — Higher speeds mean you have less time to react and a greater chance of animal collision. Pay attention to the deer crossing signs and stick to the posted speed limits.

• Eyes on the road — Stay focused on the roadway and scan for hazards near forests and farms.

• Use high beams when appropriate — Deer are most active in the evening and early morning hours. Using high beams when there are no oncoming vehicles will allow you more time to react to a deer or other obstacle in the road.

• Brake for one animal and expect more — Frequently, more than one deer will cross the road in quick succession. Don’t assume that you’re safe once a single animal passes.

Roadkill salvage permits can be obtained online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage. The permit must be kept with the meat until all of the salvaged meat is consumed. Anyone who takes possession of a roadkill animal must acquire a free permit from the WDFW within 24-hours. State law also dictates that no parts of the claimed animal may be left behind.

The public can view the locations of deer and elk collisions thanks to the data reported in all 6,030 salvage permits issued through July of this year. That data can be found online at data.wa.gov/d/mcp7-tcwf/visualization.

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