Avoiding Wildlife Collisions

Avoiding Wildlife Collisions

By John Kruse





Steelheaders typically get up early to hit their favorite spots, meaning traveling in the dark on roads that can be wet and icy. In addition to those hazards, there is another hazard this time of year we all need to be mindful of.

I’m talking about wildlife collisions,

 Every year, law enforcement agencies submit reports to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) of vehicles that have sustained over $1,000 of damage.  On average, 1500 reports are received every year.  The animal is killed in most of these collisions but there are dangers to the occupants of the vehicles as well.  Typically, 167 people are injured on an annual basis and at least one individual is killed.  WSDOT believes, based on the number of deer and elk carcasses they remove every year from roadways, that the actual number of animal/vehicle accidents is far higher than reported.


State Farm Insurance actually projects, state by state, how many deer/vehicle collisions will likely occur every year.  The latest data available is from 2014 but the Northwest numbers are illuminating:


IDAHO – 6,372

MONTANA – 10,099

OREGON – 10,523


The next question is, why do deer and elk collisions increase during the fall months?  The answer to that is partially due to sex.  Fall is the time of year deer and elk go into the rut and the primary thing they have on their mind is mating.  If a buck or bull picks up the scent of a doe or cow, no highway will stand in the way of that animal making a beeline towards what they hope will be a hook up.  Another reason why is because fawns and calves are now grown enough to act on their own and being the young animals they are, make bad decisions about crossing roadways in front of speeding vehicles.

 How do you avoid collisions with wildlife?  Here’s a few pointers.

When you see a wildlife crossing sign, know that it’s there for a reason. Pay attention to the roadway in front of you and to the sides of the road.

  1. If you see a deer or elk on the side of the road assume it’s going to do something stupid. Slow down to the point you’ll be able to avoid a collision.
  2. Most wildlife collisions occur at times of limited visibility, particularly between sunset and sunrise. Make it a point to slow down and not overdrive your headlights when driving in areas known to have wildlife.  For most vehicles, that means slowing down to 55 MPH.
  3. If a deer or elk does step out or sprint in front of you, do not swerve off the road or into the incoming lane to avoid a collision. You may have a much worse collision to contend with if you do.

If you do strike a deer or elk and sustain damage to your vehicle, call 911.   If the animal is alive a law enforcement officer or fish and wildlife enforcement officer can dispatch it with a firearm.  If you want to salvage the meat from the animal a relatively new law in Washington State allows you to do that.  Remove the entire animal from the roadway.  Then, within 24 hours obtain a free salvage permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.  According to WDFW over 4,000 of these salvage permits have been issued since August of 2020.  You can find out more details about this program and apply for an online salvage permit at https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/roadkill-salvage

Oregon has a similar las regarding roadkill salvage.  According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, “It is lawful for a member of the public to humanely dispatch a crippled or helpless animal, but OSP must be immediately notified. In these cases, only the driver of the vehicle that struck the deer or elk may salvage it as part of the roadkill salvage permit program.”

In Idaho you can also dispatch not only a deer, but any other lawfully hunted animal that you accidently hit.  You then have 24 hours to notify the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and 72 hours to obtain a salvage permit.

Montana also allows you to salvage any roadkill big game animals killed in vehicle collisions that are lawful to hunt.  Like Washington, you have 24 hours to obtain a salvage permit which can be provided by a law enforcement officer at the crash scene or obtained online.

Last but not least, know that state Department of Transportation working with state Fish and Wildlife agencies and non-profit partner organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Conservation Northwest, the Mule Deer Foundation and others have been working to reduce collisions between wildlife and vehicles in recent years.  They are doing so through the construction of a wildlife crossings and fences.  Places in Washington where this has occurred include

  • Wildlife crossing underpass on SR 240 that provides access to habitat in the vicinity of McNary National Wildlife Refuge
  • A wildlife crossing underpass and fencing on U.S. 97 in Okanogan County
  • Bridge and fencing at Butler Creek on U.S. 97 north of Goldendale
  • Wildlife fence on U.S. 97 north of Wenatchee
  • Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass where a large overpass and fencing was installed

In Idaho similar work has occurred:

  • A wildlife underpass for mule deer on Highway 21 east of Boise
  • A planned wildlife crossing at Rocky Point on US Highway 30 near Montpelier is also being designed in an area that averages 100 deer/vehicle collisions a year.

These projects do work to reduce collisions with wildlife but there are still plenty of animals crossing our roadways this fall so pay attention, be careful, and avoid colliding with a wild animal this fall.

John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com



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