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Local road kill tally sets another record

| January 4, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Kelsey Vincent was lucky.

The whitetail deer she hit on Highway 2 south of Libby did minimal damage to her car and she wasn't hurt. The deer, however, became among a record-breaking 415 killed on local highways in 2006.

"I felt bad, but there wasn't much I could do about it," said Vincent, a 24-year-old administrative assistant for Payne Machinery in Libby.

The 415 only includes deer picked up by road workers in Libby, said Van Swearingen, supervisor for the Montana Department of Transportation in Libby. There's probably another 15 to 20 percent more deer that are hit but don't die along roadways, plus another 30 to 40 deer picked up each year by Libby Food Pantry.

Last year was the 10th year in a row for record-breaking deer kills on roadways within a 5-mile perimeter of Libby. The number of carcasses for 2006 far exceeds the 340 deer scooped up in 2005 and 246 in 2004, Swearingen said.

Most of the deer were hit along Highway 2 between Beck's Montana Cafe west of Libby and Whiskey Hill south of town, and four miles north of Libby along Highway 37. Secondary roads with high deer kills include Farm to Market and Kootenai River roads.

Swearingen blames recent mild winters for increasing the population and wonders if increased hunting opportunities could help the costly problem.

"During milder winters there's a lot less mortality for the animals and food supplies are more than adequate," he said. "I wish I could give you a solution. If the weather doesn't change, I'm assuming based on the increases in the last two years, we will have a similar situation (in 2007). More little critters running around."

The forecast for January looks warm and wet.

During years with more severe winters, 150 to 180 deer were killed on local roadways. When it snows, animals leave the mountains for the valleys and food.

"There's probably less predation (from lions and wolves) on these animals because they are down in the valleys," he said.

Swearingen isn't quick to blame increased human population and traffic on deer kills.

"I'm putting most of my stock in the fact that we have less severe winters," he said. "I just know the cost is expensive and there's a lot of cars lined up at body shops. Insurance rates are going to jump on these poor people."