Dead ducks

Carol Klein was driving down Shorecrest Drive near Bachman Lake three weeks ago when she saw four dead ducks. The smashed carcasses were another insult to Klein, who has spent more than a year begging city officials to do something about speeding drivers who keep killing wildlife near the congested park.

About 100 ducks make their home at Bachman Lake--including mallards, Muskovy, Buff Orpingtons, wood ducks, and Pekin domestic ducks. Serpentine Shorecrest Drive runs between the lake and Love Field. The ducks like the water on the north side of the road, but prefer to build nests in the hedges and shady meadows south of the road.

That makes for a treacherous crossing. Shorecrest is a popular shortcut for drivers trying to avoid Northwest Highway. City employees, including police officers, also use it going to and from work at the water, sewage, sanitation, and street department offices located on the western end of Shorecrest.

Although the posted speed limit is 30 miles per hour, Klein says, she's been watching long enough to know that most drivers--including police and city workers--are likely to travel 40 or 45 miles per hour. Speed and heavy traffic have combined to create what Klein calls "Slaughter Road."

In just the past three months, at least 18 dead animals have been removed from a one-mile stretch of Shorecrest, says Bobbie Turk, a communications specialist who handles "road kill" calls for the Fire Communications Center. But Turk says she doesn't know if all 18 were ducks.

"After they get run over several times, you can't tell if it's a duck or a skunk," she says. "A lot of times, all we put down is a stray."

Turk's body count doesn't include animals killed on other streets near the park, or dead ducks picked up by park employees. The problem is especially bad between February and August, Klein says, when the ducks are mating and nesting.

"People who have not seen this cannot appreciate how bad it is," she says. "Every time I see a wiped-out animal there, I get angry. Unfortunately, I'm trying to convey this to people who have no compassion for animals.

"This has got to look bad for the city to have blood, guts, and body parts on a road near one of its airports," she says.

But so far, Klein says, her efforts to protect the ducks have generated little sympathy from the city.

Klein blames the police for failing to enforce the speed limit on Shorecrest. "They want to be able to zip back and forth from work," she says. "I've never seen a policeman with their lights on through there rushing to get somewhere official. It just seems like a shift change."

But Sergeant David Lane of the Northwest police station on Shorecrest says saving the ducks is not as simple as Klein makes it sound. Despite heavy traffic, speeding and accidents aren't enough of a problem to justify posting a traffic officer on Shorecrest, Lane says. "Are we going to run radar on the duck crossing, or are we going to run radar in the school zones?" he asks. "I understand her [Klein's] problem; I hate to see the ducks get run over. I like to see the ducks out there, but what do we give the priority to?"

In response to Klein's persistence, the city did post duck-crossing signs on Shorecrest last summer, but Lane says "the ducks don't really abide by the duck crossing signs," because they cross the street wherever they want.

"The signs are just an advisory to look out for the ducks crossing the road," he says. "It's just like the signs on the highway that advise that deer cross the road there sometimes. It's not necessarily a command that says you have to stop for a duck that is crossing the road.

"How fast does a duck waddle across the road? You think you have the duck missed, and then the duck speeds up or slows down. What do you do?"

Lane says he believes most of the ducks are killed in the early morning because "ducks are up at the crack of dawn," and their dark colors blend in with the pavement.

Klein says that Lane might think she's a "wacko," but that she's not going away until somebody comes up with a solution. "He hasn't seen anything yet. All I've done so far is make a few phone calls. If making a few phone calls makes me a wacko, then I'm guilty. I'm not asking for a whole lot here," she says.

Klein says traffic bumps could help slow traffic down, but Lane says installing the bumps isn't possible because fire trucks and ambulances rushing to an emergency at the airport would need to use Shorecrest.

Klein has also suggested taking down the duck-crossing signs during the winter, because she believes drivers become jaded to the warning. Gregory Allen, a park maintenance supervisor, disagrees. "If we remove them, people will get relaxed again and won't take heed of the fact that there is wildlife moving to and from the lake," he says.

Lee Gounaud, a Northwest station crime analyst, is also concerned about the ducks, and thinks the park department could help matters by mowing the area more often. But Allen believes mowing too often would mean no more grass on the south side of Shorecrest.

Besides, Klein says, mowing will not change the ducks' habits. "They need somewhere to nest," she explains. "If they mowed over there, they'd run over nests. Even mowing wouldn't slow down the ducks and keep them from returning to their usual nesting spots. They're not going to change their habits. Frankly, I don't think their memory spans are that long. I don't think ducks are highly intelligent where they would learn a lesson and remember not to cross the street."

Craig McDaniel, city councilman for District 14, became aware of the problem last year when citizens called his office to complain about the carnage. McDaniel, whose district includes Shorecrest Drive but not Bachman Lake, says the city spent a lot of money installing the duck-crossing signs along Shorecrest.

Although he says he is no "duckologist," McDaniel agrees ducks are probably not quick learners. But he says he is going to check into whether getting rid of undergrowth would make the south side of the road less appealing to the ducks.

McDaniel says he has also requested a traffic survey to determine whether there is a speeding problem on Shorecrest. "I think an officer with a ticket pad and a radar gun will help," he says.

Turk points out that slowing traffic down will not necessarily help the ducks. "If you're going 10 miles per hour and you physically run over a duck, it's still going to die," she says.

But Klein believes if people drive slower, it's easier for them to avoid the ducks. She thinks the speed limit should be 20 miles per hour--like in school zones--from February until August.

Although she's never been an animal activist, Klein is not willing to let the duck issue rest. She plans to contact animal rights groups, obtain a permit to hold a demonstration, write letters, take pictures, and visit with the mayor during his one-on-one public meeting on May 31 at the Arboretum.

Klein says the attitudes she encounters among officials seem very "callous." Bachman is one of the few places you can go in Dallas to appreciate nature, she says. "Dallas is a big enough city where we can do it all. We can make money and take care of the wildlife that passes through here," she says.

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