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Rules of the Roadkill

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“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” wrote poet Robert Frost in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and at this time of year, the same is true of our backyards, front lawns, and city streets.

Just two weeks ago the Montpelier Police Department posted a photo of deer frolicking on the lawn of the State House along with an admonition to motorists to beware of fast-moving deer in the city at dawn, dusk, and night.

Cpl. Michael Philbrick of the MPD reports that so far this season there have been six incidents involving motor vehicles crashing into deer in the city. According to Maj. George Scribner of the Law Enforcement Division of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, the fall “rut,” or mating season for deer, is to blame. “There traditionally is an increase in the number of these collisions during the fall, particularly for deer, because the rut increases their movement substantially,” said Scribner. He added, “The rut generally spans a period from mid-October through mid-December, peaking around the first two weeks of November. Deer and moose are also transitioning to wintering areas during this time.”

Deer are not the only large animals that increase their activity in autumn, according to Scribner. Motorists should also be watching for moose and bears. “Moose rut in September, and we do seem to have an increase in them being hit during that time. Bear collisions increase in the fall because they are moving around more in preparation for hibernating.”

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Regardless of the season, it is wise to remember that deer, especially does, travel in groups, often in darkness or low light. If you see one deer, there are likely others nearby, so if a deer crosses the road in front of you, be prepared for others to follow.

If the worst occurs, and you’re involved in a crash with a deer or other large game animals, here’s what you should do:

• Call 911. According to the Vermont State Police, motorists who injure or kill a deer (or moose or bear) on the interstate or on a state highway are required to notify law enforcement, and the way to do that is to call 911.

• This will trigger several responses depending on the circumstances. If there is significant vehicle damage or if people are injured, the 911 dispatcher will send state or local police and medical and fire assistance.

• If the vehicle is heavily damaged or passengers are injured, leave the vehicle where it is. If not, move the vehicle to the shoulder of the road.

• Be careful to stand away from travel lanes on the road. The same poor visibility and weather conditions that contributed to the collision with the animal also apply to other vehicles, and drivers might not be able to see you.

• Stay away from the animal even if it is in the travel lane. Injured animals are dangerous, and even if you think the animal is dead, it might not be. Bears and moose are especially dangerous, but a thrashing deer can also cause significant injuries.

• Because the incident involves a large game animal, the 911 dispatcher will contact a game warden, who is required to perform several tasks.

If the animal is alive, the warden will euthanize it. The warden will also make sure the animal was indeed hit by a motor vehicle and not poached. There may be instances in which the response time will be prolonged; in such cases, a game warden, dispatcher, or another law enforcement officer could give someone at the scene permission to euthanize the animal.

It is the responsibility of wardens to remove deer, bears, and moose that have been hit and killed on roadways (except for the interstate system, where Agency of Transportation personnel pick up deer that have been killed, but not moose or bears). That is because wardens must collect biological information about the animal. They also determine what will happen to the carcass.

Generally the warden will remove a tooth from a bear or moose for biological analysis. In springtime, the warden will also determine whether a female deer was carrying a fetus. This information is given to the Fish and Game Department to help determine management strategies for these populations.

Taking the animal for meat is illegal without a tag issued from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. Authorization is required before removal.

Wardens will first offer a salvageable deer, moose, and bear to the person who hit the animal. Otherwise, the carcass is donated to a food shelf or a person in need. Deer, moose, and bears that are not fit for human consumption are generally disposed of by dragging the carcass into the woods and out of sight.

Responding police officers will document the circumstances of the crash, the extent of damage, and any injuries for both statistical and insurance purposes. Responding officers will provide the driver with an incident number to use when placing an insurance claim.