Roadkill on Maryland highways is put to work … as compost

FREDERICK, Md. — It’s a sad, but unavoidable fact: Many deer don’t make it to the other side when trying to cross busy roads and highways.

But those deer that don’t make it to the other side can help Maryland’s roadside plant life — as compost.

Jim Fogle of Maryland's State Highway Administration uses a front-loader to lift a deer carcass to be turned into compost at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of Maryland’s State Highway Administration uses a front-loader to lift a deer carcass, which will be turned into compost at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of the Maryland SHA gathers wood chips to place on top of a dear carcass that will be turned into compost. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of the Maryland SHA gathers wood chips to place on top of a dear carcass that will be turned into compost. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Maryland SHA team leader Jim Fogle spreads wood chips over deer carcass at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland.  (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Maryland SHA team leader Jim Fogle spreads wood chips over a deer carcass at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of the Maryland State Highway Administration said internal temperatures reach 80 to 90 degrees; and that’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. 
(Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Inside the compost pile, internal temperatures can reach 80—90 degrees. That’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
The high temperatures created by wood chips and other composting materials melt the carcass so that all that is left are bones. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Inside the compost pile, internal temperatures can reach 80—90 degrees. That’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (0Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
The high temperatures created by wood chips and other composting materials melt the carcass so that all that is left are bones. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
The high temperatures created by wood chips and other composting materials decompose the carcass; only bones remain. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Piles of compost made from deer carcass and wood chips are kept at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Piles of compost made from deer carcass and wood chips are kept at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar) (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
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Jim Fogle of Maryland's State Highway Administration uses a front-loader to lift a deer carcass to be turned into compost at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of the Maryland SHA gathers wood chips to place on top of a dear carcass that will be turned into compost. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Maryland SHA team leader Jim Fogle spreads wood chips over deer carcass at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland.  (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Jim Fogle of the Maryland State Highway Administration said internal temperatures reach 80 to 90 degrees; and that’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. 
(Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
The high temperatures created by wood chips and other composting materials melt the carcass so that all that is left are bones. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
The high temperatures created by wood chips and other composting materials melt the carcass so that all that is left are bones. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)
Piles of compost made from deer carcass and wood chips are kept at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)

“I [saw] it Saturday, so it might be a little bit stinky,” said Jim Fogle, a team leader with Maryland’s State Highway Administration, as he drove to the location of a deer carcass near an Interstate 70 off-ramp near Frederick, Maryland.

As part of his job, Fogle retrieves dead deer and takes them to an SHA site near Mt. Airy, where the carcasses will be composted into wood chips.

As traffic raced by one day, Fogle stopped his yellow truck at the place where he had spotted the particular deer. It had been out in the hot sun for two or three days, and the smell was knee-buckling.

“When you get a holiday weekend, and it’s 100 degrees out, yeah, they get pretty bad,” Fogle said. “You better have a strong stomach for it.”

It used to be that the state simply buried dead deer along the side of the road where they were found, but some 15 years ago that practice changed.

“What we’re doing is recycling these deer,” said SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar. “And after about nine months, we have a usable product that we can go out and stabilize soil with for planting of trees or big wildlife plantings.”

At the composting site, Fogle placed the deer on top of a big pile of wood chips using a front loader. With a pitchfork, he spread the wood chips over the deer until it could no longer be seen.

Maryland SHA team leader Jim Fogle spreads wood chips over deer carcass at a composting site in Mt. Airy, Maryland. (Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)

Once the carcass is covered, the smell virtually disappears. Something people who live in a group of houses nearby undoubtedly appreciate.

“We used to mix it with horse manure, and it gave out more of an odor,” Fogle said. “So we switched it. … We’re just using wood chips and it seems to be working fine now. We don’t get that odor, and so far we’ve been lucky with our neighbors. They’ve been fine with it,” he said.

With manure, Fogle said, higher temperatures are created inside the pile of chips. But even without it, he said, internal temperatures reach 80 to 90 degrees; and that’s enough to reduce the carcass to a little more than bones in about six months. The compost pile is used for roadside plantings.

The compost pile is used for roadside plantings.(Courtesy SHA/Charlie Gischlar)

Clearly, what Fogle does is not a job for everyone.

“I enjoy it,” he said, before adding with a chuckle, “Some people think I’m crazy.”


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