Venison is a poor choice on the menu of Arlo Guthrie’s iconic “Alice’s Restaurant” much less The Road Kill Cafe.

Car-versus-deer collisions are increasing in the United States as the country’s growing population spreads into areas once home only to wild critters.

The extent of the problem is hard to gauge. Estimates of such collisions range from 275,000 to 1.5 million per year, according to insurance groups and federal figures. As many as 150 human deaths and $1.1 billion in property damage are attributed to such run-ins annually.

It’s also creating another problem: What to do with all those deer carcasses?

Some state highway departments – including the Washington Department of Transportation – are turning to composting.

Traditional disposal methods – including just dragging the dead animal into the woods – are becoming less popular as development increases along the nation’s roadways, according to a report in the July/August 2006 edition of Public Roads, a publication of the Federal Highway Administration.

“Neighborhood residents are understandably opposed to depositing rotting deer carcasses in the nearby woods, citing odors, aesthetic and health concerns, and potential safety problems from the increasing presence of scavengers,” the report states.

That’s certainly the case in Washington, which records about 3,000 deer-versus-car collisions each year, said Rico Baroga, the state Transportation Department’s maintenance policy manager.

“As the human population grows, it becomes harder and harder to dispose of the deer carcasses,” Baroga said Wednesday.

Cash-strapped governments also are looking for ways to avoid paying tipping fees at landfills or rendering plants, which can run upward of $80 an animal in some areas, according to the report in Public Roads.

About five years ago, transportation officials in New York state started seeking alternative ways of disposing of the dead deer littering its roads. They landed on composting, and started a pilot project, which was deemed successful.

Hunting clubs and farmers have composted dead animals for years, so the idea was not original, according to the Public Roads report, which was authored by Elizabeth Kolb of the New York Department of Transportation’s Region 8 environmental program.

“One of the reasons composting is attractive is that no special certifications or permits are needed,” Kolb wrote.

Recently, Montana and Washington have embarked on deer-composting projects.

Washington’s Transportation Department opened its first such facility this year. It’s outside the Stevens County town of Colville, in northeastern Washington.

Roadkill deer are layered with wood chips in concrete bins, Baroga said. They break down into humus in about 90 days. Baroga said Wednesday that workers composted 123 deer carcasses there this summer and expect to dispose of many more this fall and early winter, prime time for deer kills on the state’s roads.

The state is still researching what to do with the finished product but is considering using it as compost on highway landscaping projects, he said.

Baroga added that the state plans to add a second such facility near the Klickitat County town of Goldendale, where car-versus-deer collisions are high.

“It’s working out really well for us,” he said.

According to State Farm Insurance, here are some ways to drive safe in deer territory: pay attention to deer crossing signs; keep a close eye out for deer between 5-9pm for this is when they are most active; utilize your high beams at night to light up the roadside where deer can linger; if you see one, watch for others for deer are herd animals; so-called “deer whistles” are unproven and last and perhaps the most important, if a collision appears inevitable, do not swerve for you may lose control of your car which can lead to greater injury to you and damage to your vehicle.

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