By Lauren Gentile
When dusk hits, it’s time for Russ Stoddard’s business to begin because the combination of deer and vehicles keeps him busy all fall long.
“November is easily the busiest month of the year,” said Stoddard, owner of Michigan Highway Hazard Recovery, a private cleanup company in Capac. “We can get sometimes up to 100 per day.”
Stoddard is contracted to clean up deer and other animal roadkill in several counties across the state, including Oakland, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Calhoun, St. Joseph, Branch and Berrien.
Oakland was one of the top five counties for deer-vehicle accidents in 2011, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. The others were Kent, Jackson, Calhoun and Montcalm.
“Deer cleanup is a very costly expense. We pay around $30 per animal and that doesn’t include the labor,” said Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission for Oakland County. “That is about $20,000 per year.”
Oakland County had 1,736 reported deer-vehicle collisions last year.
Stoddard said his business “began with a family trip to Florida. We drove through other states and their highways were spotless.”
Stoddard wrote to then Gov. John Engler, who told him to come up with a plan.
“Since then, I have been doing contract work for many counties,” he said. “Right now some of my contracts are up in 2014, but I am sure they will be renewed. This is a safety issue on the roads that we need to take care of.”
Clearing state roads is the responsibility of the Department of Transportation. However, many counties take the task upon themselves, Bryson said.
Larry Brown, Allegan County Road Commission managing director, said, “We do not pick up the roadkill. If it is impeding traffic, we will move it out of the way, but that is all.”
Kent County, which historically has had the most deer-vehicle incidents, takes care of the problem on its own.
“This time of year, we have one person who pretty much just works on roadkill,” said Jerry Byrne, maintenance director for the Kent County Road Commission. “Other times of the year, this worker could be filling potholes, but during this season, they deal with mostly deer, picking up around 20-30 per day.”
After the cleanup, where do dead deer go? Stoddard and his crew take the remains to certified landfills.
“At this point they are no longer edible for meat because, they are normally pretty far gone,” he said.
In Kent County, Byrne said, “Some people will pick up the deer and take it home if it looks fresh. They are not donatable to missions, usually.”