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The Wasatch Behind: Uncle Spud says oh deer

Sun Advocate Columnist

I was driving past the golf course yesterday and saw something that made me sad. Some guy was driving along the highway picking up dead deer. He was pulling a large trailer and it was full. Deer carcasses were stacked two or three deep. And after I passed him, I counted three more dead deer along the highway before I got home. What a shame.

I don't know if anyone can even guess the number of deer we are losing on our highways nowadays. And it seems to me the problem is getting bigger every year as traffic increases and we make better roads that facilitate higher speeds. I'm willing to bet that automobiles get more deer in Utah than hunters. And automobiles might be getting as many deer as predators. A cougar will kill a deer a week, and Utah cougars are plentiful, and fat.

From my non-professional observations, it seems to me that Utah deer herds are being decimated. Between loss of habitat, winterkills, predation, hunting, poaching, and highways, we might not have a self-sustaining deer herd in this state much longer. Something must be done about this.

I asked Uncle Spud what he would suggest. Uncle Spud is the wisest old guy I know, and somewhat of an expert when it comes to roadkills. Uncle Spud was involved in Utah's very first roadkill back in 1854 when he ran over a deer with his handcart. He doesn't like to talk about it much. It was a traumatic experience and the deer did so much damage to his handcart that he had to abandon it and walk to Salt Lake with his bedroll over his shoulder.

"So what can we do to stop killing all these deer on the roads?" I asked him.

"The fish and game guys are already trying hard," he said. "They've been fencing and making deer escape paths along existing highway fence lines. They've been making watering places to try to keep deer from crossing the roads to get a drink, and they've put lots of warning signs along the highway to alert motorists to the danger. They've even experimented with reflectors and sound-making devices."

"But we still kill way too many deer on the roads," I insisted. "It's a safety hazard to people as well as an ecological disaster to the deer herds. There should be some way to stop it."

"There are ways to stop it, but people aren't willing to pay the price," he said.

"Like how?" I asked.

"We can trap every deer and fit it with a reflective collar," he said. "Or we can mandate lower speed limits, spend millions for fences and better highway lighting, and impose fines for people who hit animals on the roads."

"You can't fine people for having a highway accident," I growled.

"We said that about fines for not wearing seat belts a few years ago," Spud said. "The threat of fines would make people slow down and pay better attention."

"That will never happen," I assured him.

"Well then, if we don't take responsibility ourselves, we can always make the deer responsible," he grinned. "The deer can fix the problem, but it might take a million years."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Evolution." The Spudster smiled. "You know, natural selection and survival of the fittest. If Charles Darwin was right, in a few hundred thousand years we should have a deer herd that is automotive resistant."


"Sure," he said. "To fix the problem deer can evolve in several different ways. They can grow armor plating like turtles to deflect a speeding car. Or they can grow legs like super kangaroos and jump six lanes of traffic in a single bound. Or they can grow teeth and claws and attack the problem cars like Tyrannosaurus Rex."

"Good grief," I said. "Wouldn't it be better if people would just slow down at night and watched more closely for deer until we find a better way to solve the problem."

"Good plan," Spud said.

Then he added, with a smile, "Do you want to come over to my house and watch Jurassic Park? I've got the DVD."

"Thanks, but I'll wait for the real thing," I said.

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