Clips, Hyperlocal, Offbeat

Oh Dear!

Drivers in the Northeast are no strangers to the experience of either having to slam on their brakes or swerve their cars at breakneck speeds—just to avoid ramming into a deer, leisurely crossing the road.

Only now, the situation is reaching menacing proportions, causing over $1.1 billion in insurance claims each year, as per the estimates of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the past year, there’s been a dramatic surge in deer-vehicle accidents in several pockets of lower Fairfield County, according to a recent report. 20 to 25 percent of all such accidents in the state occur in this County.

Data compiled by the Fairfield County Municipal Deer Management Alliance—made up of officials from 15 towns—indicates that in some municipalities, such collisions more than doubled in 2006 as compared with 2005 figures.

There were 86 cases in Greenwich in 2006 as against 38 in 2005. New Canaan reported 101 last year, up by 57 from 44 in 2005. Trumbull’s count increased from 21 in 2005 to 38 in 2006. There were twice as many incidents in Darien in 2006, up from 16 in 2005 to 38 the previous year.

However, these numbers don’t present the complete picture. Every one in six deer strike goes unreported. “For every one report that we receive from law enforcement officials about a deer being killed, there are five others that go unreported.

Yet, they’re being removed by Department of Transportation personnel from the roads,” said Howard Kilpatrick, wildlife biologist at the state Department of Environmental Protection. “A trailer truck doesn’t even stop to hit the brakes [when it hits a deer]. Let alone report [the incident],” he said.

The two most plausible reasons why a great many accidents go unreported, he said, are: (1) the damage inflicted is not significant and (2) these occurrences have become so routine that people have stopped to take note.

Does the rise in accidents mean that the deer population is burgeoning at an alarming rate? Yes, said Kent Haydock, chair of the Darien Deer Management Committee. Deer have the potential to double every two years. Over a 12-year reproductive cycle, a doe can give birth to a total of 24 offspring, two each year, he said.

At the national level, the white-tailed deer population has soared from about 500,000 in the early 1900s to 30 million today, various researches show.

While there’s no dispute over the fact that the deer are multiplying with alacrity, there appears to be much disagreement about the reason behind the sharp upsurge in auto mishaps.

In 2004, Friends of Animals, a Darien-based animal advocacy group, stated in a report based on statistics drawn from 33 states that motorists were three times more likely to hit a deer during the three-month hunting season from October to December.

“We see that those towns holding controlled hunts or encouraging hunting on private property have double, even triple, the number of vehicular collisions with deer when compared with pre-hunt levels,” said Daniel Hammer, a researcher at Friends of Animals, in a statement.

However, others believe that there’s no correlation between hunting and deer-related road hazards. “This is a completely false claim,” said Haydock.

The majority of accidents involving deer, take place during rush-hour traffic between 7:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. But the curve tends to spike after darkness falls as well as on Sundays than on Saturdays—a time and a day when all hunting activity ceases.

To illustrate that hunting doesn’t necessarily lead to more accidents, Haydock said, “In 2006, Ridgefield had more than 10 or more official deer-vehicle reports of accidents falling in the months of March, May, July, August, and September. And that, fell outside the hunting season. Westport—where hunting is banned—reported 105 incidents in 2005.

“The only solution is to kill the deer. We don’t see any other way,” he said, commenting on how the problem may be tackled. The incidence of deer versus car accidents is the highest in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

One reason is the high concentration of deer in this neck of the woods, said Haydock. So, to keep the local deer population at a manageable level, the state has extended the regular deer-hunting season in Fairfield County by an extra month, from September 15 through January 31.

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