Messy, stinky road kill makes clean up tough duty for road crews

3 years 1 week 2 days ago Monday, November 10 2014 Nov 10, 2014 Monday, November 10, 2014 2:34:00 PM CST November 10, 2014 in 8 Goes Green
By: Caleb O’Brien, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA - Mike Rutter did not seem thrilled. In the year he's been with the Missouri Department of Transportation, he usually works on road signs - Boone County alone has about 10,000 signs that need to be maintained, updated and repaired, he said.

But that morning he was to discharge one of MODOT's most vile, yet least appreciated duties: disposing of the road kill that inevitably accumulates along the nearly 34,000 miles of Missouri roadway. Rutter needed to retrieve the deer from the Jefferson City area and bring them up to MODOT's maintenance shed in Columbia, where the incinerator was waiting.

Accidents happen

Every year, between 5,000 and 6,000 deer deaths caused by vehicle collisions are reported in Missouri, according to Jason Sumners, resource scientist at the Missouri Department of Conservation. Those collisions kill only a small fraction of the total herd, which is estimated to be a little more than a million deer. The herd has diminished somewhat over the past five years, and fewer deer mean fewer deer-vehicle collisions. But accidents still occur and still produce plenty of carcasses that need to be dealt with.

The peak period for deer-vehicle collisions is October and November. Those months encompass deer breeding season, when bucks in rut are more active and likely to travel long distances in search of does. Shorter days also mean more drivers commute at dawn and dusk, when deer are most active.

The conservation department has supplied funding for MODOT to buy about 15 deer incinerators, used to dispose of animal carcasses. Using those funds, they've already purchased nine, including one now kept at the Columbia shed. A squat, somewhat sinister black box lined in firebrick, the incinerator burns diesel and can torch up to 100 pounds of carrion per hour. It is an efficient and effective way to dispose of deer, Sumners said.

Other methods of handling road kill have limitations: Dumping a deer at the landfill costs about $20; their bodies can be composted, but the composted remains can spread diseases; and leaving the bodies on site could cause additional accidents even if the remains are off the road.

Kelly Straka, conservation department wildlife veterinarian, said the presence of a dead animal along a roadway can produce a domino effect: Dogs, hawks, owls and other scavengers attracted to the remains could themselves be hit by passing vehicles. If the animal remains on the roadway, beetles and other small carrion-eaters could have trouble reaching the body, slowing the process of decomposition and prolonging passersby's exposure to unsavory odors.

The incinerator offers a swift, sanitary alternative.

Deer patrol

At the maintenance shed on Paris Road, Rutter hitched a bright yellow trailer to one of MODOT's white Ford trucks and pulled onto Highway 63 toward Jefferson City.

It was a fine morning for a drive - hawks on round bales soaked in the sun's warmth; sprinklers pirouetted across vast acres of sod. But idyllic though the morning was, somewhere ahead waited the mangled bodies of two dead deer.

"I'm going to get my hands dirty today," Rutter said.

Before joining MODOT, he ran a mobile car-crushing service. He'd set up shop at junkyards around the state and flatten cars that had been stripped of their usable parts.

It was a blast, he said, but the days and weeks away from his family wore on him, and he longed for a more stationary, stable job. When the gig with MODOT came along, he took it and hasn't looked back since. Mostly.

"I'm just hoping these deer are all in one piece," he said. "I can kill a deer, and I can gut a deer, but this is different."

MODOT runs another maintenance facility near Jefferson City, but because Columbia has the closest incinerator, the capital crew sends its deer north for disposal. That day, MODOT had arranged for the Jefferson City crew to collect the bodies and leave them for Rutter at their shed.

But when he arrived, the place was completely vacant. Rutter drove around the compound looking for corpses among the road equipment and construction supplies.

After about 10 minutes, a van pulled up hauling a long flatbed trailer equipped with an outhouse, several tanks and the swollen body of a doe. Rutter had arrived before his cargo.

More surprises awaited. He'd been promised two deer, but the second had vanished before the crew picked it up. It's not unusual for people to abscond with road-killed deer, Rutter said, especially the bucks. Sometimes the crew will find deer with their heads cut off or their antlers sawn away. Road kill makes for easy trophies.

Rutter and a man from the van donned gloves and dragged the deer from the flatbed into the Columbia-bound trailer.

Her left hind leg was shattered, her abdomen distended. She left a smear of blood from her muzzle on the weathered boards of the flatbed. She smelled.

After the doe was loaded, Rutter washed his hands and rinsed off his shoes with a hose. He climbed into the cab and headed north, back toward the shed and the incinerator.

"It's definitely pungent," he said.

Averting accidents

Rich Skelton, a maintenance crew leader in Columbia, said their shed disposes of nearly 100 deer a year. This fall is the first time they've used the incinerator during the peak season for deer-vehicle collisions.

To prevent more deer winding up in the incinerator, Sumners suggests using high beams when possible and keeping an eye on the ditches on both sides of the road. Should a deer appear, don't swerve to avoid it: Most injuries occur when drivers lose control trying to dodge deer, not when they hit them.

Cremation

Back in Columbia, Rutter drove up to the incinerator, and he and a coworker, Brian Hulett, opened the twin doors.

Inside lay a small heap of carbon and bones that turned to powder at a touch. The incinerator can accommodate two deer at once, and when it's running, the contents need to be stirred every 30 to 60 minutes.

Rutter and Hulett used a front-end loader to dump the doe into the incinerator. They pulled her to one end, closed the doors and lit the burner. Smoke and ash billowed briefly from under the doors, then nothing, save for the heat rippling the air around the box.

Rutter watched for a few minutes, and then he walked away.

 

More News

Grid
List
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri prosecutor will not file criminal charges against a Southwest Airlines pilot arrested after Transportation... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 1:07:54 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis man is facing charges for allegedly shooting a mechanic in a dispute over... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:59:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Christmas holiday begins this weekend at Union Station in Kansas City. The station... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:55:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state of Missouri is looking for input on how to spend $41 million from... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:41:00 PM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA- The Columbia Holiday Festival is giving local vendors a platform to support mid-Missouri charities this weekend. The Holiday... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 11:42:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Columbia police and fire department units responded to reports of an overturned car at Grayson Cottages early Saturday... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 7:53:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in Continuous News
CAMDENTON - The place a man envisioned as his retreat away from the hustle and bustle of regular life now... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 7:05:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Shots were fired in downtown Columbia early Saturday morning in an area typically packed with late night celebrants.... More >>
1 day ago Saturday, November 18 2017 Nov 18, 2017 Saturday, November 18, 2017 12:49:00 AM CST November 18, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - One person was hurt in a crash on Stadium Boulevard at the intersections of East Pointe Road and... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 9:12:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - The Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center off Providence Road caught fire Friday night. A division chief said crews... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 8:19:52 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Each of Missouri’s counties are slating new council members for their MU Extension County Council. The councils... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 6:52:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA – The Missouri State Highway Patrol will be putting "all available troopers" on the roads over Thanksgiving week. ... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 5:58:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Gloomy weather and a possible chance of rain isn't going to stop one Columbia organization from throwing on... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 4:12:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
ASHLAND - The approval process took several months, but the process of planning a switch to a new sewage treatment... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 4:00:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
KINGDOM CITY - Hatton-McCredie Elementary’s 5th grade class donated $900 to Central Missouri Honor Flight, in honor of a late... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 3:51:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA - Haby Naya grew up in Chad, Africa. She spent lots of her free time braiding hair, anyone’s hair... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 3:45:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri prosecutor will not file criminal charges against a Southwest Airlines pilot arrested after... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 3:41:31 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
COLUMBIA- Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler met with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Friday to discuss the new tax overhaul known as... More >>
2 days ago Friday, November 17 2017 Nov 17, 2017 Friday, November 17, 2017 3:24:00 PM CST November 17, 2017 in News
Columbia, MO
Broken Clouds 33°
12am 35°
1am 35°
2am 37°
3am 37°

Select a station to view its upcoming schedule:

Coming Up Next

11:35p
The Simpsons
12:05a
Inside Edition
12:35a
Paid Program
11:00p
Paranormal Activity 3
1:00a
Cops
1:30a
Paid Program

Tonight's Schedule

6:00p
Football Night in America
7:20p
Sunday Night Football
7:00p
The Face of an Angel
9:00p
KOMU 8 News @ Nine on The CW
9:30p
Family Guy