The Impact of Roadways

artemis-w-deerTwo weeks ago I hit a deer with my car. I drive an hour and ten minutes to work every day and this has been one of my worst fears. It was a rainy night so I was driving slow but I still wasn’t able to react in time. The deer wasn’t much bigger than a big dog and probably had just barely lost his or her spots.

I pulled over and got out to find the deer, who was far off the road by then and slowly dragging him or herself away. I ran back to the car to call a rescue, thinking about how I might try to get the deer into my back seat. The search engine gave me a local number. It said they were closed but I decided to give it a shot anyway. They were open but only take raccoons and smaller animals. The lady on the phone recommended I just call the police.

I did, then while I waited for them to arrive I tried to search for other places that might take a deer. I couldn’t find anything useful, just a bunch of things vaguely related to what I wanted. I got out of the car and went out to find the deer again, who by now had stopped moving. I was afraid to get too close. When the officer came he checked out the deer while I looked for my insurance card.

I told the officer I’d even take the deer in my car and drive to a rescue if I could find one. He told me that no one would take the deer because his back was broken, so he’d have to shoot him. He said a local hunter would come collect the body and use the meat. I asked if I could be with when he shot the deer, since I was the one responsible and I wanted to say a blessing. I didn’t mention that last part to him. The officer said it’s a danger and he couldn’t allow me to be there when he discharges a firearm.

My fiance was so sweet. After I called the first place I texted him what happened, but when the officer showed up I stopped responding because I was dealing with the situation. He actually came and found me. Apparently he was going to drive the entire route to my work (an hour and ten away) until he found me wherever I was along the route. Thankfully I was only five minutes from home.

I went home, sat by the fireplace, and sipped tea. I was a bit numb and it just didn’t feel right to me that I got to be comfortable when someone else had just lost their life.

I know there wasn’t much else I could have done differently. I live in a car culture. Choosing not to drive just isn’t reasonable for most people. It’s an imperfect world and things like this happen. I guess I just feel grateful that I wasn’t speeding that night, so at least that’s a little off my conscience.

I really wish that my area had a wildlife crossing. Human roads and settlements break up the habitat of other animals, and wildlife crossings, often in the form of an overpass or underpass, are one way of allowing other animals to get back and forth without crossing dangerous roads. They save the lives of animals, both human and non-human, and save on property damage to boot. It’s estimated that wildlife collisions cause $1.1 billion in damage a year in the U.S. alone.

Roads and traffic affect animal populations detrimentally in four ways: they decrease habitat amount and quality, enhance mortality due to collisions with vehicles, prevent access to resources on the other side of the road, and subdivide animal populations into smaller and more vulnerable fractions.
~Jaeger et al. (2005)

As much as one fifth of America’s landmass is ecologically affected by roadways. Things like wildlife bridges are a way for our society to take responsibility for its impact on the rest of the world. So far, it’s the best way of mitigating habitat fragmentation and vehicle collisions. It’s the best thing short of not causing fragmentation in the first place.

Wildlife crossings have existed for decades and are becoming more popular in the U.S. and Canada. They save lives, and on top of that, to be cost effective in terms of property damage, a single underpass only needs to prevent 2.6 – 9.2 collissions with deer per year.

A way that Italy is tking responsibility for itself is through wildlife abulances. I’d have been very lucky — the deer I hit would have been very lucky — if I could even find a place to bring hm or her, but an actual ambulance for deer seems almost sci-fi in its unattainability. It would be like our culture making a collective statement that the lives of non-humans matter, that our impact on them matters, and that it is our collective responsibility to do something about it.

When I told my friends on social media what had happened I got a lot of support. Mostly people were just glad that I was all right and gave their condolences that I went through a traumatic experience.

The police officer himself told me that he contacted a local hunter who would take the deer’s remains. He meant it as a comfort, so I accepted it that way, but the thought did nothing for me. The deer was already dead, or would be after I pulled away and the officer put them out of their misery. Whatever happened to the body after that wouldn’t change their death. Whether their body was fed to a hunter, or decomposed in the open – which, after all, just means the body is being fed to local microorganisms – probably wouldn’t make a difference to the deer, and so it didn’t make a difference to me. I wasn’t upset over the waste of edible meat; I was upset over the waste of life.

One of my friends – and I’m not criticizing – said that everything happens for a reason and that had this not happened I might have been in a fatal crash afterwards. But the fact is I was in a fatal crash; I was just the lucky party. Everything happens because of a ause but I don’t think that necessarily means there’s a higher reason. Sometimes the reason things happen is because society is set up unjustly. Givving thanks that hitting the deer might have saed me from getting into another accident later sugests that the deer’s life was less valuable than my own. I probably have more of a social network than a baby deer, so the impact of my death would be marginally bigger, but as an individual I’m not worth more.

But whether it happened for a reason or not, I’m going to make it into my reason for helping deer. Out of guilt, sure. Anger and guilt can be powerful starting points.

Another friend understood how hurt and traumatized I was, but said that hearing my story helped her because it was good to see someone else viewing a deer as an individual instead of a thing. She said my story may have moved the officer, or that he migh tell someone else the story and it might move them. That’s not the same as saying everything happens for a reason, but more that we can try and do good in any situation we’re in. I can’t undo the damage that happened, but maybe I can do something to save another animal. Not that morality is like a bank account and I need to get the red out of my ledger. I don’t believe in that version of karma. But it’s my hope that maybe this will inspire me to do something good for deer. I’ve already got a project in mind.

The officer said that no place would have taken the deer because of the extent of the injuries. But if something could have been done, I was unprepared. I didn’t have the numbers of any local rescues or facilities. That’s something we can all do – save the numbers for the wildlife rehabilitation facilities near our homes and workplaces. If we’re involved in an accident, or encounter a sick or injured animal, calling the right place is something huge we can do for them. They might get the care they need, or at worst, they can be mercifully euthanized.

For smaller animals, we can keep boxes in our cars, along with towels, water, a water bowl, and appropriate treats along with some sturdy gloves. If we enounter a stray pet or sick or injured animal, we’ll be prepared to help them if it seems safe to do so.

This event made it more real to me that as a society we need to take more care of the way that we treat everyone around us, human and non. What are some other ways we, as individuals, can lessen our impact on wildlife?

2 thoughts on “The Impact of Roadways

  1. Cosette

    I’m sorry that happened. Having important numbers saved on your phone and a few basic supplies in the car is good advice. Don’t be too hard on yourself; it was an accident, after all. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago. I was staying at a holiday house with large windows and, twice, a bird crashed into them. The first one died. The second one was stunned, but survived. It was very troubling and I couldn’t help but wonder how many times that’s happened before. It seems like something easily preventable so my partner and I are making some recommendations to the house owner. Perhaps you can build the momentum to get a wildlife crossing built in.

  2. Bob Hopkins

    It’s not just animals, birds etc that bear the brunt of roadways. Pedestrian humans are also victims. Not just at risk of being smote by an automobile but also the loss of being able to just walk, amble, wander through a peaceful countryside. Sure there are walking trails but these require extreme pre-planning. To travel between towns for instance means sharing the artery with all manner of snorting, noisy, polluting and dangerous vehicles. Roadways and our infatuation with cars have deprived us of our peaceful pedestrian heritage. A pity but such is life

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