By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
Each year hundreds of animals trying to cross Northcoast roads end up on the losing end of the deal killed by drivers who couldn't brake in time.
Indeed, last year Del Norte Disposal hauled 9.05 tons of animal carcasses to Dry Creek Landfill near Central Point, Ore., near Medford.
Getting rid of that much roadkill may sound expensive. But at the rate of $5.85 per 100 pounds, county taxpayers spend less than $1,100 to have it placed in a landfill.
"Dead animal disposal is charged at the same rate as garbage," said Kevin Hendrick, Del Norte Solid Waste Management director.
Work hours spent on removing the roadkill rather than another task, and the fuel and wear-and-tear on vehicles in hauling and delivering it isn't so easy to quantify. But it's labor and fuel spent by most local government bodies.
Last year, 8.34 tons were brought to the garbage company from various county agencies. About 540 pounds came from Del Norte County road crews and another 80 pounds came from the school district.
After a vehicle collision with an animal, county and Caltrans crews respond to the scene as quickly as they can because of the danger an animal carcass poses to drivers.
"If we're out and we see something, we pick it up to get it off the road," said Jason Tornay, Del Norte County Animal Control officer. "It's nothing we look forward to; it's another public service."
Crews bag the smaller animals and take them to Del Norte Disposal Inc. on Elk Valley Road.
Being a heavily forested area, this part of California is home to a lot of opossum and raccoons. It's not a surprise, then, that the nocturnal critters are the biggest road kill statistic.
Its the pets that tug at animal control officers' hearts, though.
"We feel sorry for the animal, and we hope it was hit fast," Tornay said.
The county's residents, he said, are "pretty good" about taking care of their own pets. Pets, though, get out of their homes or yards accidentally and follow their instinct to explore and establish territory.
When they're hit by cars, the animal control officers take detailed records so they can explain the circumstances of their pets' deaths to the owners who call looking for them.
"We have an accident here or there, but we save their collars for the owners," Tornay said. "The main thing is keeping everything cleaned up."
While Tornay and his fellow workers deal mostly with small animals on city and county roads, Caltrans workers know only too well where elk congregate.
"It's amazing, the nationwide statistics for the number of deer hits yearly," said Weldon Hailey, Caltrans maintenance supervisor.
U.S. Hwy. 101 between Lucky 7 Casino north to about one mile south of Dr. Fine Bridge in the Smith River area racks up a lot of elk kills, he said.
"We have partnering agreements with the Yurok and Tolowa tribes," Hailey said. "They will harvest the meat to distribute to their elders."
When Caltrans receives calls, dispatchers send pick-up or patrol trucks to haul away smaller road kill. For larger animals, it's a front loader job.
Smaller animals are sometimes left in the woods to become part of the food chain.
"We leave them about 100 feet from the road," Hailey said.
Larger road kill is buried near the location its life ended. Carcasses are also disposed of at two sites, one of Elk Valley Road, the other in Klamath.
"We try to get them off the road as fast as possible before the school kids see them," said Hailey.
He shared a piece of sage advice with motorists who might want to help an remove a dead animal, or help one that's been injured: Don't.
"If you come across an injured or dead animal, be aware that if it's a bear cub, mom might be nearby," he said.
2006 roadkill stats
Three different agencies removed roadkill from Del Norte County roads last year:
Del Norte Animal Control
318 road kill removals (about 25-30 animals per month)
Del Norte Solid Waste Disposal 9.05 tons or road kill transported to Dry Creek Landfill, Medford, Ore.
SOURCE: Caltrans, Del Norte County Animal Control; Del Norte Solid Waste Authority