It’s a wonderful time of year for a leisurely drive to take in the fall colors but fall is also the time of year you have the greatest chance of colliding with a big game animal on a road or highway near you. Every year, law enforcement agencies submit reports to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) of vehicles that have sustained over $1,000 of damage.
On average, 1500 reports are received every year. The animal is killed in most of these
collisions but there are dangers to the occupants of the vehicles as well. Typically, 167 people are injured on an annual basis and at least one individual is killed. WSDOT believes, based on the number of deer and elk carcasses they remove every year from roadways, that the actual number of animal/vehicle accidents is far higher than reported.
So, where are the greatest number of collisions occurring? In Eastern Washington, WSDOT states the following areas have the highest number of accidents:
• State highways in the Spokane area, particularly north of Spokane, where the highways intersect with white-tailed deer wintering grounds.
• Southeastern Washington, where state route 124 and U.S. 12 follow the Touchet River Valley, an area with an abundance of white-tailed deer.
• State highways in the Methow and Okanogan River Valleys – host one of the state’s most prolific mule deer herds, consistently have high numbers of animals killed in collisions each year.
• Wenatchee vicinity – abundant mule deer population results in high deer collision rates on the busy highways both north and west of the city.
• U.S. 97 – there are high deer/vehicle collision areas just north of Goldendale.
• I-90 Easton/Cle Elum vicinity & Ryegrass vicinity west of Vantage – highest number of elk/vehicle collisions on the east side.
The next question is, why do deer and elk collisions increase during the fall months? The answer to that is partially due to sex. Fall is the time of year deer and elk go into the rut and the primary thing they have on their mind is mating. If a buck or bull picks up the scent of a doe or cow, no highway will stand in the way of that animal making a beeline towards what they hope will be a hook up. Another reason why is because fawns and calves are now grown enough to act on their own and being the young animals they are, make bad decisions about crossing roadways in front of speeding vehicles.
How do you avoid collisions with wildlife? Here’s a few pointers.
1. When you see a wildlife crossing sign, know that it’s there for a reason. Pay attention to the roadway in front of you and to the sides of the road.
2. If you see a deer or elk on the side of the road assume it’s going to do something stupid. Slow down to the point you’ll be able to avoid a collision.
3. Most wildlife collisions occur at times of limited visibility, particularly between sunset and sunrise. Make it a point to slow down and not overdrive your headlights when driving in areas known to have wildlife. For most vehicles, that means slowing down to 55 MPH.
4. If a deer or elk does step out or sprint in front of you, do not swerve off the road or into the incoming lane to avoid a collision. You may have a much worse collision to contend with if you do. If you do strike a deer or elk and sustain damage to your vehicle, call 911. If the animal is alive a law enforcement officer or fish and wildlife enforcement officer can dispatch it with a firearm. If you want to salvage the meat from the animal a relatively new law in Washington State allows you to do that. Remove the entire animal from the roadway. Then, within 24 hours obtain a free salvage permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website. According to WDFW over 4,000 of these salvage permits have been issued since August of 2020. You can find out more details about this program and apply for an online salvage permit at
Last but not least, know that WSDOT, WDFW and partner organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association, Conservation Northwest, the Mule Deer Foundation and others have been working to reduce collisions between wildlife and vehicles in recent years. They are doing so through the construction of a wildlife crossings and fences. Places this has occurred include:
• Wildlife crossing underpass on SR 240 that provides access to habitat in the vicinity of
McNary National Wildlife Refuge
• A wildlife crossing underpass and fencing on U.S. 97 in Okanogan County
• Bridge and fencing at Butler Creek on U.S. 97 north of Goldendale
• Wildlife fence on U.S. 97 north of Wenatchee
• Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass where a large overpass and fencing was installed
These projects have worked to reduce collisions with wildlife but there are still plenty of animals crossing our roadways this fall so pay attention, be careful, and avoid colliding with a wild animal this fall.
John Kruse – www.northwesternoutdoors.com and www.americaoutdoorsradio.com
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