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A dead deer's journey from roadkill to compost

Tuesday - 5/24/2011, 12:25pm  ET

The crew unloads a deer carcass into a payloader to be placed in compost. (WTOP/David Burd)
David Burd,

FREDERICK, Md. - I went out on the road with a crew from the Maryland State Highway Administration. Our mission? To find dead deer on I-270 and I-70.

SHA is notified a couple of different ways about dead deer on highways:

  • Maryland State Police call in deer-related accidents.
  • Motorists call when they spot deer in the middle of the road.
  • Residents call when deer are hit and land in their front yards. A typical call: "Would you please come and remove this deer from my front yard? It's too big and I can't possibly move it."

SHA officials say now is the busiest time of the year for deer on the roads. Crews are out everyday looking for them and say there could be as many as 20 deer in a day this time of year.

So, what happens to these carcasses after they are picked up?

They are taken to a compost station just off I-70, between Route 75 and Route 28 in Frederick County.

Considering it was only 68 degrees and overcast, the smell wasn't too bad. I was told by one of the SHA crew members that I was lucky it wasn't 80 degrees.

I have to admit that it was sad to see these deer in the shape they were in. It was obvious that they had been hit by cars and trucks.

Wearing rubber gloves, workers pull the deer onto a hydraulic lift on the back of their truck.

It's a heavy lift. These animals can weigh up to 400 pounds.

Now you are probably wondering what happens next!

The deer carcasses are placed in compost bins by payloaders on top of compost. Then another layer of compost is put on top.

It takes up to seven months for this compost to cure. When ready, it's not given or sold to the public, but rather used on highway median strips to fertilize wild flowers that are planted.

Other types of roadkill -- raccoons, groundhogs and dogs -- are not composted because of the chance of rabies.

My hat goes off to the SHA workers whose job it is to remove these unfortunate animals from Maryland highways. It's a tough job and it's done with dignity and reverence.

I left the compost site and it took a couple of hours for the smell to leave my nostrils and memory. I will never forget the time I spent with this crew and will never look at a dead deer on the side of the highway without remembering this day.

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