A recent e-mailer wanted to know why this department doesn’t pay for deer damage to vehicles but will collect fines for the wildlife code violations pertaining to deer. They felt that we claim ownership of deer when it pays us but not when it would cost us. In reality, we never claim ownership of deer. Fines for wildlife violations go to the county in which the violation occurred, not to the Conservation Department.
Deer and other wildlife are the property of all Missourians; they are a natural resource of the state. In 1936, Missourians passed an amendment to the Missouri constitution creating the non-political Conservation Commission. The public made it clear with their vote that they wanted an end to the poorly regulated harvest of wildlife that had led to the near elimination of deer and turkey in the state. The Department’s authority to regulate wildlife today issues from that constitutional mandate of 1936 to restore and manage wildlife resources for the people of Missouri.
Because the Department does not own wildlife or control their movements, we are not responsible for the damages caused by wildlife. It’s not the same situation as when a cow escapes its fenced enclosure and is hit by a vehicle. That cow is a farmer’s private property. The farmer is responsible for controlling that animal’s movements, and he is liable for damages that it causes when he loses control of it.
Please take extra precautions to avoid deer/vehicle collisions at this time of the year. Deer are on the move due to the rut, the deer’s breeding season, and are more likely to cross roads frequently. Some deer/vehicle collisions are unavoidable, but you can minimize your risks by keeping a sharp eye out for roadside deer, especially at dawn and dusk. If you see a deer, slow down safely and watch for additional deer that may have initially been outside your field of view. Don’t swerve to avoid a deer if you cannot do so safely.