PLATTSBURGH — A thriving deer population across New York state means more accidents, paving the way for environmentally friendly road-kill recycling.
According to State Department of Conservation spokesman Dave Winchell, what to do with an animal’s remains really depends on where the deer died.
“If the carcass is left on the roadside, then it is the responsibility of the highway department that oversees the particular road — state, country, town or village — to remove it,” he said in an email.
Winchell said most motorists have the option of claiming the animal for themselves or may also sign it over to someone else for removal.
“They need to sign off on a form from the responding law-enforcement officer and keep a copy to provide if questioned by other law-enforcement officers,” he added.
But the buck doesn’t necessarily stop there.
New York is one of a few states across the country with a method in place to recycle deer at mortality composting sites, said State Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Flick.
“NYSDOT actively composts deer removed from state highways at 33 locations in 20 residencies across the state,” he said.
Counties, such as Clinton, which have larger population centers and interstates, are more likely to compost and have been doing so for about seven years.
DOT worked in conjunction with officials from the Cornell Waste Management Institute in order to properly set up the sites to ensure environmental and community safety standards were properly in place.
“On highways that have houses, businesses or environmentally sensitive resources nearby, composting allows the residency to remove the deer and dispose of it in a manner whereby it decomposes safely,” Flick said.
In a 2007 report, the institute found a need for safe, alternative disposal practices, as older methods like leaving the animals near a roadside to decompose became less acceptable.
“Water quality can be compromised when animals decompose on or below ground. It could become a public-health issue as pets and people may come in contact with the carcasses,” the report said.
“And collection services are costly. Contractors are paid between $30 and $125 per deer for pickup and disposal. Landfills often either do not accept or restrict carcasses. Disposal options are thus limited.”
Flick noted that sites are not set up in haste and do not necessarily flourish in just any location.
“NYSDOT requires composting areas to be properly sited, with compost windrows, the rows of deer carcasses covered with wood chips, above an impervious surface and at least 500 feet away from the nearest dwelling,” he said.
“Pile management also includes proper deer placement within the windrow, proper carcass cover, windrow temperature monitoring and a final windrow turning.”
Composting is a relatively sanitary way to dispose of the animal’s remains, Flick added, and it reaches a heat level during decomposition that is generally odor-free.
It is also beneficial for highway workers.
“Deer can be removed from the roadside by a trick equipped with a lift gate and brought to a single location where carcasses are moved by a loader,” he said. “This minimizes exposure to deer ticks as well as reduces the chance of back injuries.”
After about a year, the compost is ready for spreading.
The seed-free mulch can now be used for slope stabilization and for establishing roadside vegetation.
“Grass grows well in soil that has been amended with this mulch as it is nutrient-rich and does not contain competitive plant species,” Flick said. “Compost from this process has also been used as mulch when establishing a living snow fence.”
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