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The Hunter Behind the Wheel

By Gina Ginsberg

Originally published in the editorial section of The Register Guard

 

The bloody animals that freckle the road are ignored by cars that speed down smooth highways.

 

The blemishes on the side of the road are seen as driving hazards rather than bodies that once hosted life.

 

Children are told not to look, as parents cruise past the evidence of the mortality trap that humans have created. It is important to acknowledge this reality that humans have designed, and to be aware of the havoc drivers impose on our fellow creatures.

 

I experienced this human impact when taking the back road from the Oregon coast to Eugene. Two black shadows resembling large sheep dogs are on the side of the road ahead. The sheep dogs become black bears. The 92 Toyota 4x4 slows down as both bears accelerate and the faster bear dives between the front wheels.

 

We turn around but the bear is gone. Maybe it died, but not right where it was hit. Maybe it recovered. Maybe there is still a limping black bear somewhere in the Willamette Valley.

 

Although most black bears reside beyond the city limits, I became curious about what happens to other misfortunate roadkill in the city of Eugene.

 

To learn the fate of the carcasses, I collected roadkill with Bob Edmiston, a public servant who has been cleaning the streets of Eugene for 26 years.

 

“Roadkill has an impact. People don’t associate with death very well. They try to ignore it,” says Edmiston. Collecting the stricken bodies allows people to be indifferent towards roadkill. Edmiston says that when dead animals are near elementary schools, people call in anxious for it to be taken care of. When Edmiston responds promptly, kids won’t see or ask about death. “I guess I don’t relate it as death. I see it as debris because that’s my job,” says Edmiston.

 

The absence of death in the streets maintains the illusion of clean, urban life, but it is also important for sanitation. Decomposing bodies can build up in storm drains and cause river pollution.

 

Edmiston identifies dead cats and dogs to worried pet owners. There is a differential postmortem treatment; domestic animals are cremated and wild animals are collected and stored until there are enough to warrant the dump fee at the landfill. “It gets in your clothes, and it smells foul all day,” says Edmiston.

 

Deer, possum, cats, dogs, mice, rats, birds, squirrels and raccoons are some of the more common animals that Edmiston collects. He also picks up wild turkeys, goats, cougars, coyotes, and nutria, the invasive, semiaquatic, terrier-sized rodents.

 

People also eat roadkill. “Sometimes we’ll get calls for deer, and when we arrive they’re gone. They don’t walk away. If it’s fresh, people eat the meat, sure,” says Edmiston. He also sometimes finds deer with their antlers sawed off which he assumes people keep as trophies.

 

Justin Hicks, of McLagan’s Taxidermy in Bend, says that people often bring in what looks like roadkill. Although each state varies on the legalities of keeping roadkill, in Oregon, with a seasonal hunting license, people can stuff or eat what they hit.

 

Edmiston used to take fresh deer to the Eugene Mission to be served to the homeless, but The Mission stopped taking donated roadkill years ago due to health concerns. However, the lean meat from deer and longhorn sheep could provide a healthy non-greasy chorizo, says the kitchen manager Clarence Martel; “Roadkill usually has damaged organs which bleed out, causing live bacteria to contaminate the rest of the meat and turns it green.”

 

Clear roads give the false perception that people are removed from nature. Gritty jobs that maintain the underbelly of the city keep its surface looking pure. Jobs like roadkill collection help maintain the elegance of urban life to which city dwellers have become accustomed.

 

An unfortunate roadkill incident is a reminder of life’s brevity, but as fellow inhabitants of the earth, we must be mindful of our daily impact, be it from pollution or roadkill. When you get on the road, your vehicle is an unintentional weapon, but Oregon law requires a hunting license to keep your kill. In that case, should all drivers become certified hunters, just in case they end a precious life? Leave the city limits and your SUV could land you a bear rug or dinner.

 

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