As dawn breaks on the first day of open deer hunting season and the sounds of gunfire ring out in the apple orchards behind my house in south-central Pennsylvania, I am thinking about the state's complete lack of investment in protecting wildlife at road crossings.
The roads here run red with the blood of deer and other animals during the late fall when wildlife movement is at a peak and driver-deer collisions rise exponentially. In fact Pennsylvania is among the leading states for deer-car collisions, according to national insurance studies.
I wouldn't doubt it. I pass five deer carcasses a day on my 25-mile commute this time of year. I see the bodies of raccoons and possums lying at the base of those solid Jersey barriers that they could not scale.
Hunting is a great economic generator - the state issues 900,000 hunting licenses each year - and there is no shortage of funding when it comes to statewide battles over deer herd management and Sunday hunting or wildlife "control" like the latest round of deer herd culling at Valley Forge.
But where is Pennsylvania when it comes to wildlife protection? Look at what our neighbors spend to help animals get across roadways safely. Maryland Virginia passage under the busy George Washington Pkwy. In New Jersey wildlife moves above the traffic on I-78 where overpasses have been built in high-crossing areas.
In Pennsylvania we don't even put up adequate deer crossing signs. How about higher fences along highways PennDot, small passages in concrete barriers to let animals through or installing road deer sensors in high-crossing areas like the state of Indiana did on the Indiana thruway?
(The PA Game Commission and PennDot did spend $150,000 a few years ago on a pilot project to install deer sensors on Rte. 322 near Harrisburg but the plug was pulled and the system declared a failure almost as quickly as it was installed.)
In its 2011 report to Congress on the subject, the Federal Highway Administration estimates some 300,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions with 96 percent of them involving deer. They caution that number is likely much lower than the reality because there is often no reporting when damage is not severe.
Studies show wildlife fencing, detection systems, underpasses and overpasses work, according to the federal report.
In Maryland, many wildlife species, like this raccoon, are using storm drains and culverts to cross highways/
Pennsylvania residents and officials interested in learning about ways other states have helped protect wildlife might look here at Wildlife and Roads website, a resource for addressing wildlife crossing issues.
How about humane deer population controls in high density areas, where habitat fragmentation poses greater risks for wildlife-car collisions? Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe dismissed the idea of deer birth control in a recent interview as "too expensive." We wonder if Mr. Roe and his team at the PGC have even investigated the idea. Seems once again, Pennsylvania's neighbors are on the cutting edge. Maryland and New Jersey are the two states where vaccine to curb deer population has been approved for use. Tests conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture have found that the vaccines work in controlled wild horse and feral swine populations, according to a Discovery News report.
And what is the hope of officials in those states? That the number of deer-car collisions are reduced.
So is the cost in auto damage, in higher insurance rates, in human and animal lives - when we do nothing.