Raccoon family on 303 shows why so many die

The in basket: Christy Folden was upset to see seven dead raccoons on the roadside or in the road on Highway 16 during a trip to Tacoma and back to Port Orchard one mid-July day.

She wonders if anyone is responsible for their removal. “They shouldn’t be treated like this, leaving them to rot on the highway,” she said.

The out basket: I was in a car on Highway 303 just south of McWilliams Road about 7 p.m. on Aug. 5 when a family of raccoons tried to cross from the west side to the east. A couple had gotten over the center barrier  and into the woods on the other side but two young ones hadn’t. Drivers were stopping to avoid adding to the summer’s death toll. The two young raccoons on the west side dodged one way and another, finally getting back into the brush from where they had come.

I hate to think what might have happened later that night if the family tried to reunite.

Duke Stryker, head of state highway maintenance crews in Kitsap and Mason County, says his employees remove the carcasses of dead wild animals from the state highways, but they have to be notified of the location unless his workers happen to come across them.

And if the dead animal is in the roadway and it’s a busy highway like 16 or 303 , they have to arrange for  lane closure for the safety of the employees who must collect the animal.

They bury the carcass at one of their properties, he said.

You can tell his office about a dead animal in need of removal from a state highway at (360) 874-3050. If it’s a Kitsap County road, call them at (360) 337-5777. If a domesticated animal, call Kitsap Animal Control.

I wondered if seven dead raccoons on one highway on one day was unusual. Craig Bartlett of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife says they don’t manage the raccoon population, so can’t be sure.

What does manage those populations are outbreaks of canine distemper among raccoons when their numbers grow too large, he said. A few reports of the disease in raccoons last year, when none is the norm, suggests that the population cycle may be at or near its peak, and more raccoons means more dead ones hit by cars, he surmised.

He couldn’t shed any light on another mystery – why most of the roadkill is on the shoulder and not in the driving lanes. He guesses they are thrown off the roadway by the impact or are put there by a driver who passed by earlier and decided to keep the body from being mashed to a pulp by successive vehicles.

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