An Interview with Jimmy Harris
You’ve probably seen a dead deer or other wildlife on the side of the road, or maybe still in the lane of travel. But do you know what happens to the remains of the animals?
We wanted to find out, so we talked to an expert. Jimmy Harris works for a company that is under contract to help dispose of dead animals. Below, Jimmy explains the logistics and philosophy involved in this task.
A Schedule and a Sharp Eye
How do you know where to pick up animals?
UDOT personnel sometimes call and tell me about some animals, and I also have scheduled days on which I drive around and look for them. Sometimes I will call and check with the UDOT region shed supervisors. I’m scheduled to drive the route through my region two times a week.
I’ve gotten familiar with the routes — I have a good idea of where I’m going to find animals and where I’m not. Highway 40 is the most active, and in Wasatch and Duchesne Counties there are a lot of animals. Right about Jordanelle Reservoir — that’s where I find the most moose. They are resurfacing the road there and putting in a higher deer fence.
About 80% of the animals I pick up are mule deer. On the new Pioneer Crossing [in Utah County], there are a lot of raccoons. The smallest animal I’ll pick up is a house cat.
Is it difficult to see animals?
Most of them are off the road on the shoulder. You do have to keep a good eye out to make sure you don’t miss any. For some of the bigger crashes, UDOT or UHP personnel will move the animal out of the travel lane, and then advise me of where I need to pick it up. For instance, recently, the Heber UDOT shed said there was a moose hit, and I picked it up early the next morning.
Very rarely am I called out to pick up animals on days I’m not scheduled.
Tools of the Trade
How do you pick the animals up?
My truck has yellow flashing lights like most emergency vehicles. I keep the truck off the road when I’m picking up animals.
I have a flatbed trailer. I usually grab the animal’s legs and drag them up onto the trailer. I have a set of gloves that go up to my elbows, a shovel and a high-visibility vest.
For larger animals, the trailer has a winch — I wrap the cable around the animal’s legs, and then it gets pulled up the ramp. I have the shovel because sometimes the animals are hit more than once.
To get them off the trailer, I tie a rope around their legs and pull. There isn’t a winch to help get them off the trailer, so I just have to tug and pull and get them off myself.
Final Resting Place
Where do you take them?
I take them to a landfill. There are several that accept animals. It’s an open pit about 20–30 feet deep. Butchers and farmers use them, too.
There's An App For That
Do you keep track of the animals you pick up?
We have a new app that Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC) developed with DWR and UDOT. When we pick up an animal, we log it into the app. It geotags the location, and we enter details about the gender, age and any tags. If we find an animal with a radio collar, we remove it and return it to wildlife officials.
We are helping DWR and UDOT to address the problem. We provide DWR with information about where most of the animals are found, and share that with UDOT. That helps them know where they need to put up tall deer fences. We can provide them with detailed information so they know where they have a bad problem.
The work you do can probably be pretty grim – do you like your job?
I’ve been doing this full time since March of 2012, but on and off for three years. It varies from day to day. Some days I don’t want to do it — like after I went on vacation, and the person who filled in for me didn’t really know where to look for all of the animals. So when I got back, there was a pretty big backlog of animals. I had to pick up extra ones.
But I try to just look at it as an opportunity to see what’s going on everywhere. I drive all of UDOT Region 3, which covers six counties in central Utah: Juab, Utah, Wasatch, Duchesne, Uintah and Daggett. So, I cover a lot of territory. I try not to focus on just picking up the animals.
As people are passing me, some slow down to get a better look. What I really want them to do is focus on the road and their driving. I don’t want them to fixate on me and end up causing a crash.
Speed, Signs & Storms
What advice would you give to drivers to avoid hitting an animal?
Pay attention to road signs. When you’re up in the mountains, animals can be active at all times of the day. The early evening and early morning hours are especially dangerous.
I recommend that people be especially careful after some of the winter storms that come our way. They force the deer to come down to lower elevations to find food. They will be crossing highways more following some of the storms.
Sometimes there are signs of how serious the crash was. One time, on I-15 between Spanish Fork and Benjamin, there was a semi-truck fender right next to the deer.
It can be worse if you swerve, so I recommend that people stay on the road. These animals can turn on a dime — they’re very agile. Once they see your vehicle, they may turn and run back off the road. No matter what, remain calm when any animal makes itself present while you’re driving.