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A career in road kill

iconDon't just sit there like a deer in the headlights. Click here and we'll show you some of the efforts being made to protect animals from highway traffic.

got to do it

In this story:

Oh, dear. Oh, deer.

Seeing the light

For the long haul

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

(CNN) -- Add Charles Brannon to those whose jobs are harder lately because of the unusually harsh winter. Brannon has a contract to pick up and dispose of dead deer along state roads in four counties of northeastern Pennsylvania.

"A hot deer and the cold pavement -- they freeze instantly to the surface," Brannon laments. "You can't even chisel them off -- I've tried that. There's really nothing you can do."


Oh, dear. Oh, deer.

Urban sprawl, hunting restrictions and the prolific reproductive capacity of deer have caused the animals' numbers to swell to perhaps 25 million in the United States. Deer, like humans, increasingly are taking up residence in the suburbs. The deer are finding themselves casualties of commuter traffic.

In wilder areas, too, deer often become road kill, especially during mating season -- when bucks are pursuing does -- and in hunting season, when the animals are fleeing hunters in the woods.

graphic As tough as this work may be, clearing road kill is important for sanitation and safety. How much would you have to be paid to do the job?

Look, money isn't the issue. As long as I could clear $40,000 per year, I'd do it because it's important.
I'd have to be offered something real close to $100,000 to be able to handle this.
There isn't enough money out there. You just couldn't pay me to do it.
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More than 200 motorists are killed and thousands more are injured every year in the United States in collisions between vehicles and animals, many of them deer. In Georgia last year, a teen-age boy riding his bike was killed by an airborne deer that had been struck by a car. Individual motorists typically pay $2,000 or more in vehicle repairs when they hit a deer, the U.S. Department of Transportation says.

It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of deer die annually from collisions with vehicles. That's when Brannon and other contractors go to work.

Brannon has a three-year contract with the state of Pennsylvania to pick up dead deer along state roads in Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe and Carbon counties. He's paid $40 per deer. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says Brannon averages about 1,800 of them a year. That's $72,000 annually.

But the job comes with a number of expenses that Brannon pays out-of-pocket. He's required to carry $1 million in liability insurance. He also pays plenty for gas and wear-and-tear on his pickup truck

Brannon estimates that he drives as many as 500 miles on a busy day, and 70,000 to 80,000 miles a year on the lookout for deer. He's responsible for paying sometimes hefty fees to landfills for disposing his cargo. And he buys a steady assortment of gloves -- rubber gloves, leather gloves, latex gloves -- for use on the job.

"I don't really count the mileage, and I don't count the deer. Hopefully, the bottom line is in the black when it's over," Brannon says.


Seeing the light

"It's extremely dangerous," Brannon says of his job. "You can't park in the middle of the road and stop to pick up the deer. If you don't have room to pull off, you kind of have a dilemma.

"You have drivers whizzing by at 60 or 80 mph, half in a daze. Most of the time when something is happening on the side of the road, you tend to look that way ... and your car drifts that way. One time, when I was walking back to get a deer, a truck driver tried to run it over again.

Deer, of course, aren't the only animals in peril on our highways. In many mountainous areas, bear can easily become road kill, particularly during high tourist seasons  

"If you can't handle pressure, this isn't for you."

Nor is deer removal a good career move if you can't withstand gore galore. Some animals have been hit repeatedly and it's left to Brannon to pick up the pieces. The stench is powerful enough to buckle a butcher's knees. And then there's the bugs -- maggots, ticks, others.

"They jump, they crawl, they do everything," Brannon says.

It helps to be strong. Lifting a deer into a vehicle is hard work. "If they aren't busted open, they could weigh, I don't know, a couple hundred pounds," Brannon says. "You got to be in shape, and you've definitely got to be alert."

Some motorists give Brannon a thumbs-up or honk their horns in approval when they observe him removing a deer. "You get a lot of frowns too -- like maybe you did that to the animal," he says, and laughs.

"I like animals, but I'm not doing it because I'm an animal lover," Brannon says. "It's upsetting to see so much death. I've gotten down because I'm always around something dead. I had to call on the local police to finish one deer off. That's bad."

Brannon copes with the carnage by focusing on simply getting the job done. ""You don't concentrate on the animal," he says. "You concentrate on the traffic. If you don't, you're going to be right next to the animal. I just go out and get it, load it and go to the next one."


For the long haul

The biggest aggravation to Brannon is inaccurate information that motorists occasionally provide to the Pennsylvania transport department about a dead deer's location. The agency then phones Brannon with the data. Brannon is only allowed to pick up deer reported to him by the DOT.

"Sometimes the information is so off, there's just no way you can find it," he says. "You don't get paid if you don't find it. You've just wasted a lot of time that you could have spent picking up something with a good location."

It's not the free-for-all it sometimes seems out there. In some places, extensive efforts have been made to keep wildlife and human transport safely apart. Here are a few such programs.

This is especially annoying during busy road kill days -- typically April through June and October to December -- when Brannon is scrambling to get to all the carcasses reported. And then he has to get them to a landfill before closing time.

"You can't store them overnight," he explains. "The smell is so bad, there are no areas where you can park." His contract stipulates that he will take all deer to a landfill within 24 hours of being notified.

What he likes best about the job, Brannon says, is that during slow periods it enables the single father to spend generous chunks of time with his two children living with him. Summer is usually not a hazardous time for deer and cars, and the kids are out of school.

So when his contract comes up for renewal in the spring, Brannon says he'll bid again for it. "Somebody has to do this work, I guess. You have to be committed, like in any other job. It's a little tougher than most. You have to be able to stomach it.

"It's a gruesome job, there's no two ways about it. You don't advertise what you do, let's put it that way."



Scotland's wildlife caught in deadly snare
September 27, 2000
Growing human population rivals endangered key deer
July 27, 2000
No roads where the deer roam, federal judge rules
January 11, 2000

U.S. Department of Transportation Wildlife and Highways: An Overview
International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Quality Deer Management Association

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