Saturday, April 01, 2000

Raccoon road fatalities rising as economies sag

Ohio study finds splats significant

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dodging more road kill on your way to work these days?

        Blame it on the Russians. And randy skunks.

        The Ohio Division of Wildlife has started its annual spring Road Kill Survey,which reveals how many critters we run down and where.

        In the past 20 years, the division reports, raccoon accidents — usually fatal — have risen by 950 percent statewide. The numbers also are rising for other animals, like skunks and opossums, but not so quickly.

        One reason for the population boom is the economy in Russia and other cold countries, where the market for furs is as flat as a tire-pounded marsupial on Interstate 275. Puny pelt prices put fewer trappers and hunters in the field. So more fur-bearing animals run across the roads.

        “The fur industry is way south of where it was in the '70s,” says John Ware, owner of Nuisance Animal Control, Maineville. Back then, buyers paid as much as $35 for unprocessed pelts, compared to today's $8 or $9 for “tanned” or processed furs. Raw opossum skins can be had for as little as 85 cents, wildlife officials said.

        In the spring, animals become more active.

        “It's the mating season, and animal movement increases,” said Chris Dwyer, wildlife biologist at the Crane Creek Wildlife Reserve Station, near Port Clinton. “Some of them are interested in sex; some are just coming out of the winter looking for food sources.”

        Mr. Ware blames “the anti groups” that promote shorter hunting-trapping seasons and bans on animal harvests for increasing the animal numbers.

        The opossum population, Mr. Ware said, has grown by more than 600 percent in the past two decades. “They have no natural predators.”

        The state, in its survey of 40,000 miles of two-lane roads, documents the number of kills per 1,000 miles of highway in March and April.

        Last year, observers came up with 3,080 dead raccoons, 1,840 dead opossums and 680 skunks.

        And those are just the ones they saw.

        Given that Ohio has 2.9 times as many roads as those in the survey, the spring death toll could be as significant as 8,932 raccoons, 5,336 opossums and 1,972 skunks.

        Mr. Dwyer, who coordinates the count, said the numbers are used to make wildlife management decisions and to establish hunting and trapping seasons.


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