Oh dear! The Missouri Department of Conservation [MDC] is no longer picking up dead deer on city or county roads in St Charles and St. Louis counties.
As of June 1, MDC ceased providing a contractor to remove deer carcasses from roadways and road edges in the St. Louis metropolitan area. In March, MDC officials sent out a letter stating it would no longer provide this contracted service. Deer and vehicle accidents remain common particularly with the growth of deer populations in urban areas.
Erin Shank, an MDC urban wildlife biologist, said MDC officials are available to help local governments find alternatives. In the March 8 letter, Shank wrote that communities have several options for disposing of road-killed deer.
She said that “deer can frequently be moved short distances away from roadways where they can naturally decompose out of sight and/or smell of residents. MDC recommends moving carcasses no further than necessary due to the slight risk of spreading disease.”
She added in the letter that deer also can be sent to a landfill that will take them. And local governments can contract with MDC’s past contractor, Animal Care Services, to pick up the animals.
Shank said in an interview on June 13 that one reason for canceling the service is a reordering of priorities for managing the state’s deer herd. MDC is worried about the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease [CWD] a deadly neurological disease in white-tailed deer that has been found in some parts of Missouri. CWD kills all deer it infects.
Another reason for cutting the service was that MDC wasn’t providing the service throughout the other counties in the state, she said. The service was available locally in St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties and in Boone County around Columbia. “So it wasn’t a consistent business practice,” Shank said.
MDC started paying for a contractor to go out and pick up the deer and dispose of them in the 1990s when urban deer populations began to explode.
“In the mid to late 90s, our conservation agents were spending a lot of time in the urban area just going and picking up deer off the road and they weren’t really able to do their enforcement job. I think it’s the kind of thing if we had a crystal ball in the ’90s we would have never embarked on a local contract for that service if we had foreseen urban deer issues were going to basically be part of commute living in any city or town throughout North America,” said Shank, who managed the program for 15 years.
In addition to cities and counties picking up the deer themselves, the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT] has a maintenance crew who picks up dead deer on state rights-of-way on interstates and state highways. But Shank said the state may not expand that service much because it has limited crew and a limited incinerator capacity.
Shank said MDC budgeted for picking up 170 or 180 deer carcasses a year at a cost of about $90 or more each. Chesterfield in St. Louis County and Weldon Spring in St. Charles County are two communities that have used the service, she said.
Some cities, such as Town & Country in St. Louis County, which has a large deer herd, have been removing deer carcasses by hiring MDC’s contractor, who can get to the animals quickly, Shank said.
When asked if the new policy would affect Chesterfield, City Administrator Michael Geisel said, “No, I don’t think this is going to affect us at all.”
“Typically, MoDOT picks up dead deer on their right of way and St. Louis does the same on county roads. We were initially concerned that the state and county would withdraw but they have not,” Geisel said.
The city typically picks up dead animals that weight 30 pounds or less and the contractor picks up animals weighing more than that, Geisel said.
Weldon Spring City Administrator Michael Padella said the city has a large deer population and animals hit by vehicles is not unusual. Most of the city’s roads have a 35 mph speed limit and hitting a deer at that speed will damage a vehicle and hurt or kill the deer but, he said, it’s not as dangerous as hitting a deer while traveling Hwy. 94 and Interstate 64 at driving speeds of 60 mph or more.
Padella said he called Animal Care Services for a bid on the service but the city’s Board of Aldermen hasn’t acted on it. The city has road maintenance agreements with St. Charles County.
“We’re going to wait to see how the county is going to handle it and maybe piggyback on what they are doing,” Padella said.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann said on June 11 that the county has not made any decision on what they might do on removing deer carcasses.