A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Whose job is picking up roadkill?

“I don’t ever know what road I’m on when I’m driving until I see the roadkill, then I know where I am. There was always a dead deer on Lakeshore over the summer,” said Sr Erik Heindlmeyer.

Living in Michigan, people are all too familiar with the sight of roadkill. Some, like Heindlmeyer, even memorize roads based on the presence of dead animals. Roadkill rots for days or even weeks, leaving many to question whose job involves picking up roadkill. Currently, Michigan doesn’t require any department to handle roadkill.

Everyone agrees roadkill looks and smells disgusting, including The Ottawa County Road Commission. They collect and dispose of roadkill out of courtesy, but disposing of dead animals costs between $7,500-$15,000 yearly, and they already have to maintain other aspects of our roads; therefore, they can only pick up deer every Friday with help from volunteers.

Zach Russell is the communications administrator at Ottawa County Road Commission. For most road maintenance responsibilities, the state government gives counties a set amount of money, but “No one receives any money for roadkill, so no one does it,” said Russell.

The state of Michigan doesn’t leave room in department budgets for roadkill removal, so the department loses time and money picking up deer. Road commissioners don’t oppose handling roadkill, but the task becomes difficult without funds.

Sheriffs only handle deer involved in car crashes. A sheriff may shoot the injured deer, but more often they just move dead deer out of the way for traffic.

There are debates on whether the state of Michigan should start giving counties money for handling roadkill. Kent County employs a “Deer Sheriff” whose job consists of picking up dead deer and disposing of deer. Which works, but costs an extra $100,000 a year because, as Russell said, “There is an expense of having to dispose of it properly. You have to go to a landfill and pay for it to be disposed of.” Most counties can’t afford to spend an extra $100,000 to dispose of deer properly.

One possible solution would require animal control to pick up roadkill; however, smaller counties don’t have capable animal control departments. Another solution would involve citizens being accountable. In 2014, Michigan passed a new bill making roadkill pickup easier for people. Now if someone wants to claim roadkill, they can fill out a salvage tag online by putting in their personal information and information on the animal, but most likely not enough citizens will go through the effort.

A solution that works for all counties is difficult to find. No matter what, if we spend more money picking up all roadkill, then others aspects of road maintenance will be put aside. Roadkill may ruin the aesthetic of driving down the lakeshore, but at least Heindlmeyer and others like him will know what street they’re on until a reasonable solution arises.