Why are deer getting killed by a car crossing the freeway?
Believe it or not - finding the answer is going to cost state taxpayers $300,000.
This is not a joke. While potholes pop up on freeways and money is being squirreled away by the state Parks & Recreation Department, Caltrans is spending $300,000 to work with the Department of Fish & Game and the University of California, Davis, to find out why some deer don't make it to the other side.
Although I'm not an engineer, state bureaucrat or a university researcher with a Ph.D., may I be as so bold to venture a wild guess? Could it be because the deer got struck by vehicles?
The $300,000 question centers around road kill on Interstate 280 on the San Francisco Peninsula where about a deer once a month is killed. Besides killing the deer vehicles are seriously damaged and people injured.
While this is serious stuff there's a couple things to keep in mind:
• In general, older deer have no problem crossing the freeway whereas the road kill consists mostly of younger deer.
• Caltrans said data they are collecting from radio tracking deer may indicate where wildlife tunnels should be built under the freeway or deer-proof fencing put in. Officials say similar studies have been done on other freeways in the Bay Area but it is too early to read anything from the results so why not go ahead and spend another $300,000.
• An expert with the Road Ecology Center (I'm not making that up) at U.C. Davis noted the 280 corridor in question is almost all open space meaning there are no hot spots for deer crossings. He pointed out the idea of wildlife corridors are a myth.
If that's the case, there are no set places that the deer cross. But don't worry. If they find out if deer make it across where vegetation is hacked back, say five feet from the shoulder, they will replicate those conditions all along the freeway. And if a high number of deer are ending up as road kill at the bottom of a curvy hill then they'll put fencing in place and force the deer to play freeway chicken elsewhere.
Of course, if they already have a sense of the answers, why don't they just spend the $300,000 on the solution? No can do. The state has to study the problem.
The real question is do they need more data? One assumes the CHP mentions in accident reports where a deer is involved. By pulling those reports the state could get an idea about the time of day and where the deer are being killed by using low tech stuff such as a map and push pins. Then they can go out and look at the areas where the deer are getting killed.
Why this is more effective and less costly is obvious. If they put radio-controlled devices on older deer they aren't likely to get hit, according to what Caltrans already knows. True, they will have the area where they crossed but experts already point out there aren't any hot spot crossings due to it all being open space.
Then there is the obvious observation. Could deer be like people? In other words, some younger deer are more prone to take chances or are easily distracted which explains why they don't make it to old age so they can be considered a veteran freeway crosser.
Maybe we should spend $5 million in scarce Caltrans funds and underwrite a full blown study of why some young deer take more risk and others don't.
At the same time maybe we can spend $10 million on a study to tell us why the state can't spend within its means and why politicians treat taxpayers as road kill.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.