6,000 Tons of Natural Selection
California Department of Fish & Game wildlife biologists had all but given up hope of recovering the faulty radio transmitter collar worn by the mule deer doe. Then came 6,000 tons of “natural selection.”

The Darwinian allusion was made by railroad locomotive engineer Scott Palmer of Klamath Falls, Oregon, in describing how his freight train accidentally struck and killed the collared doe near midnight May 4 as she crossed the train tracks 25 miles south of the Oregon border.

Palmer told DFG wildlife biologist Rich Callas that a moment before impact he spotted the radio collar attached to the doe’s neck. The train struck and killed the deer instantly, leaving its remains near the tracks.

On the train’s return trip north the next night, Palmer stopped the train, located the doe and retrieved what turned out to be a $3,000 global positioning system (GPS) collar loaded with data about deer habitat uses and migration patterns.

“We’re very grateful for the extra effort made by Scott Palmer in getting that collar back for us,” said Callas, who is overseeing GPS collaring studies of deer and elk in northeastern California.

Callas said the deer — ear-tagged number “237” — was one of three does whose prototype GPS collars had failed to automatically drop as programmed. One of the three animals was located, recaptured and freed of its collar, but DFG said it was unable to round up either of the other two does.

Since 1999, the DFG has attached GPS transmitter collars to more than 40 deer and elk in Siskiyou and Modoc counties as part of new, high-tech studies that are giving the agency very site-specific data on preferred habitats and season habits of the two species. Data contained within collars retrieved from study animals are downloaded to computers. Collars are refurbished and then used on newly captured animals.

Palmer’s freight train — a Burlington Northern Santa Fe line that runs between Klamath Falls and the Feather River Canyon — missed the first doe that ran in front of it near Tionesta, but caught the second, collared animal square on the tracks. Palmer said years of travel along the 200-mile route have taught engineers to immediately lower their headlights and cut their ditch lights when deer, elk or antelope appear on the tracks to reduce the blinding effect of the lights on the animals. The deer hit at Tionesta, however, walked onto the tracks at a road crossing where regulations prohibit lowering the train’s lights.

With precise geographic data points that have been recorded once every seven hours over a period of a year, recovered collars feed valuable information into biologists’ computers — details on habitat preferences during the different seasons on both the routes and timing of migrations.

Once he had the recovered collar in hand, Palmer — both an active hunter and a GPS aficionado in his own right — contacted Callas with the news. To cap the communique, he wrote in an e-mail to the biologist about the collision with the deer that said:
“In closing, I’m sorry we killed number 237. Just think of the train as a 6,000-ton force of natural selection.”

He said the locomotives were pulling the 60-car freight train with a combined 15,000 horsepower at a speed of 45 miles per hour when the does darted in front of the lead engine.

| WH Home | Contact Western Hunter.com | WH Archive |

Copyright © 2001 J & D Outdoor Communications. All rights reserved.