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If there's something strange and it doesn't look good along your roadway— like a dead deer slowly rotting away — who are you going to call?
In Livingston County Michigan, the simple answer is: Nobody.
Clearing the dead deer in Livingston County has long been a controversial subject, magnified somewhat because the agency charged with maintaining its 1,340 miles of local roads — the Livingston County Road Commission — doesn't do much in the way of removing deer carcasses.
At most, Managing Director Mike Craine said, the commission will drag deer that pose a traffic hazard to the side of the road and pour lime on them to help control the permeating odor, which lingers until a carcass is totally decomposed. In Livingston County, the state is of little more assistance, as then-83-year-old retiree Yvonne Brown of Marion Township found out in the summer of 2009.
She phoned her township offices, the Road Commission and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and struck out with all of them over the course of about two weeks, while nature took its unpleasant course on a dead deer outside her home along Wright Road and D-19.
Her story is not uncommon in Livingston County, which routinely has one of the highest rates of reported car-deer crashes in Michigan at well over 1,000 annually. Craine said three times that many car-deer crashes go unreported in the county each year, meaning lots of deer are either injured or killed along local roadways, not including those wounded by hunters.
"We do sometimes remove deer if they are in the travel portion of the roadway, but we do not remove deer from the road right of way," Craine said. "Our position is, 'Hey, this is the country. If it ends up in your neighbor's yard, go take care of them.' "
In some counties across the state, drivers or residents who spot an animal carcass can simply phone their road commissions or governing bodies, which contract the removal of dead animals to private companies or are covered under a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation.
For instance, Oakland, Branch, Calhoun, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Allegan, Van Buren and Berrien counties are covered under a state deer-removal contract with Michigan Highway Hazard Recovery, a deer-removal business based out of Capac. Russ Stoddard operates the business with two employees, running weekly and biweekly routes through the counties. He said he has attempted to open lines of communication with counties like Livingston, but received little or no response.
Stoddard said he charges $3.60 per mile and $29 per animal collected and is on-call 24 hours a day. He picks up more than 2,000 dead deer each year and disposes of them in Class II landfills, which are facilities licensed to accept commercial and residential solid waste.
The counties Stoddard handles don't pay him directly, his bill is paid by the state through his contract with the Department of Transportation.
Those eight counties are included in the agreement because they contract with the state for work on highways like Interstate 96 and U.S. 23, for which the state is responsible.
Craine said Livingston County is not among the 65 counties statewide that perform such maintenance for the state, and so would have to pay for deer removal from its own general fund budget. Right now, that's not possible.
"Particularly in these times, budgets have gotten tight, and we just don't think (there's anything we can do) other than removing a hazard directly from under your wheels," Craine said.
Craine added that Livingston County has opted over the years not to perform state highway maintenance because it pulls equipment away from county roads, to which county officials have given priority. Craine said MDOT is usually slow to react to dead deer along the "90 or so" miles of state highway running through Livingston County.
In the years past, some people have volunteered to pick up dead deer along Livingston County roadways. In 2006, Tim Strong of Tyrone Township cleared dead deer in the area and buried them on his property or on another person's land, with permission. Strong even tried to create a nonprofit organization called the Michigan Road Kill Commission to fund his endeavor, but is no longer in the business.
That's for good reason. According to Department of Natural Resources and Environment spokeswoman Mary Dettloff, average Joes can't just go picking up or relocating dead deer along the roadway because it's illegal. The exception is for drivers who hit a deer, she said, because they can acquire a kill tag for it and take it. Dettloff said the DNRE does not handle or dispose of roadkill, and added that property owners are responsible for dead deer on their property.
"If you are a property owner and have a dead deer, you're responsible for disposing of it," Dettloff said. "You can leave it there and let nature take its course or bury it."
Brown opted against either of those options. She went public with her story when the flies and stench from the rotting deer carcass outside her home became "too much."
Brown was relieved when Critter Control, an animal-removal company in Green Oak Township, came to her aid and removed the deer for free. Other private companies, like Animal Control Solutions in Ypsilanti, can also trek into Livingston County to remove dead animals. Both companies charge in the realm of $200 per dead deer, which covers removal and disposal in either a Class II landfill or crematorium. Stoddard said his company would also consider private runs to Livingston County.
Brown said if governments really can't do anything about dead deer along the roadways, they should at least have useful contact information to direct residents to private companies that could.
"I believe the Road Commission should know these people are out there and refer folks to them," Brown said.
She doesn't expect the government to dispose of the deer, "but can't they at least have an index or telephone number of someone who can?"
Credits: By Frank Konkel - LivingstonDaily.com