SALEM — Vehicle collisions with deer and elk peak in October and November, when migration and breeding (“rut”) sets them on the move, making them more likely to cross roads. Less daylight hours and rainy weather also reduce the visibility of drivers.
That cautionary advice and reminder of mandatory lifeline testing for chronic wasting disease was in a joint news release Thursday from Oregon Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
On average, ODOT documents more than 6,000 vehicle collisions with deer and elk each year. The actual number of collisions is likely higher, as little or no damage is reported.
ODFW and ODOT are asking Oregonians to be mindful of Wildlife this time of year and follow these tips:
• Be careful when driving in areas with special signs indicating the presence of wildlife. These signs are placed for a reason.
• Be careful when driving in densely vegetated areas or curves along the road. Wild animals near the road may not be visible.
• If you see an animal, be alert. There may be others nearby.
• If you see wildlife on or near the road, slow down and stay in your lane. Many serious accidents are the result of drivers losing control while swerving to avoid wildlife.
The same advice applies to small wildlife like raccoons; try to stay in your lane and don’t swerve for these animals. They are less dangerous to vehicles than large game animals and controlling your vehicle is paramount.
• Always wear your seat belt. Even a minor collision can result in serious injuries.
ODFW, ODOT and partner organizations are working to reduce the risk of vehicle collisions with wildlife by building wildlife crossings. Crossings allow wildlife to safely follow migratory patterns over or under the road. Data shows that wildlife crossings on Hwy 97 near Sunriver have reduced vehicle-wildlife collisions by nearly 90%.
A bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021 provides $350 million in competitive grants to states for wildlife crossings and other mitigation. ODFW, ODOT and other partners will work to secure grants for the projects.
Oregon drivers can also show their support by purchasing a Watch for Wildlife license plate. Proceeds from license plate sales will benefit projects that help wildlife move within their range and between habitats. Originally developed by the Oregon Wildlife Foundation, the license plate is now available at the DMV.
Road kill rescuers: PPE testing is mandatory
As wildlife-vehicle collisions peak, so does participation in ODFW’s roadkill rescue program. Since 2019, it has been legal to rescue a deer or elk hit by a car in Oregon. Rescuers are required to fill out a free online permit available at https://bit.ly/OR_roadkill.
Since January 2019, the program has been granted 5027 permits. The most permits were issued in Western Oregon, where there are more drivers for black-tailed deer.
Rescuers are also required to bring the heads and antlers of all rescued deer and elk to the ODFW office for testing within five days. This is so ODFW can test the animal for Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal neurological disease it has been on the lookout for since it first appeared in Colorado in the late 1960s.
The disease has never been found in Oregon wildlife. But the CWD testing rules took on new urgency late last year after several wild deer and elk were discovered in northwest Idaho, about 30 miles from the Oregon border.
Infected animals can spread the disease for several years before symptoms appear (which include loss of balance, limping, emaciation or emaciation, and eventually death). Testing apparently healthy deer and elk at the onset of disease, when they are not showing symptoms, is the most effective way to catch the disease before the animal spreads the disease across the landscape and to other animals.
“With the disease now closer to state borders, we just want to remind roadkill responders about the mandatory testing requirements.” ODFW Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Colin Gillin explained. “The more animals the state tests, the more confident ODFW can be that the disease is not present in the state. If detected, ODFW can implement a response plan to prevent the spread of the disease.
Test results are expected to take up to a month. If an animal tests positive for CHD, the biologist or veterinarian will call the rescuer directly.
Negative test results will be posted at https://bit.ly/OR_CWDtesting for individual online review by roadkill responders.
To find your result, enter RSP before your permit number (eg RSP5001).