In Illinois, new 'roadkill bill' takes effect; in Wisconsin, lawmakers consider measure to change its policies
There are about 1 million car-deer collisions each year, resulting in the deaths of some 200 people and injuries to about 10,000 others. Iowa, South Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota are in the top 10 of U.S. states where a driver is most likely to run into a deer.
About 350,000 deer are killed by cars each year, and more than 250,000 other animals, including elk, squirrels, raccoons and foxes, are killed each day on America’s roads.
At the Deer-Vehicle Crash Information and Research Center (a national project of the University of Minnesota Center for Excellence in Rural Safety), these numbers are used to help states reduce such crashes and improve road safety.
But despite these efforts, roadkill will likely remain an all-too-frequent occurrence in rural areas, such as the west-central Illinois district of Rep. Norine Hammond.
Last year, the first bill she sponsored as a freshman lawmaker allowed the harvesting of any fur-bearing mammal “unintentionally killed by a vehicle during the open season” as long as the proper permits are obtained. HB 3178 survived a gubernatorial veto and became law.
Hammond introduced the bill at the request of a constituent who wanted to salvage the hides of animals such as mink and foxes, but she says the measure also “makes fiscal sense.”
“Cleaning the roadways generally falls to the Department of Natural Resources or Transportation,” she says, “and it didn’t make sense to spend the money to dispose of a resource people would take away.”
Since the bill’s passage, Hammond says, she has received “many positive comments from both wildlife officers and constituents about taking advantage of a resource that had been going to waste.”
In a few states, mostly in the Northeast and South, motorists can request an official tag for any non-restricted species that they unintentionally hit and kill, allowing them to take the carcass for processing or the head or hide for taxidermy. Some states charge for the tags. But in many other states, it is illegal to pick up wildlife hit by vehicles, which is considered the property of the state.
In most Midwestern states, if a motorist kills a deer, that person can keep the carcass if he or she gets permission and a tag. About 15 percent of deer kills in the Midwest are taken by the motorist, according to the Deer-Vehicle Crash Center. But few Midwestern states have regulations covering the disposal of other animals. (Due to strong demand from Asia, animal pelts are bringing the highest prices in years. The hides from small mammals can bring up to $30, with Illinois alone reporting more than $1 million in pelt sales in 2010.)
In Wisconsin, it costs the state about $1 million annually to collect larger animals such as the 35,000 deer and 150 bears that are killed on the road, so allowing the harvest of these would reduce state expenditures. The state already allows deer killed by motorists to be kept if a tag is obtained, and AB 334, which the state Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee passed in December, would allow the same for bears or wild turkeys.
Under the Wisconsin legislation, other animals that are not protected species could be harvested if in season and the person has a hunting or trapping license. A similar bill died in the Senate during the last legislative session.
Both states’ measures have in-season provisions to prevent someone from illegally hunting and then claiming they found the animal on the road. While there was concern that someone might intentionally hit an animal to obtain the carcass, the average cost to repair a vehicle that strikes an animal as small as a coyote is $1,600, according to insurance companies.
Carolyn Orr serves as CSG Midwest staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The committee’s co-chairs are North Dakota Sen. Tim Flakoll and Kansas Sen. Carolyn McGinn.