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Bambi Isn't Cute Anymore

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It is night. You are driving through Carroll County. A set of eyes flash in your headlights.

If you are lucky enough to spot the eyes of a whitetail deer before the animal runs in front of your car, consider yourself fortunate. Statistically, drivers in Maryland have a one-in-120 chance of being involved in a deer-related accident within the next year.

Last September, a Glen Burnie motorcyclist was killed and his passenger injured when they ran into vehicles that had braked to avoid a deer. In October 2006, a 37-year-old Westminster man died in a crash involving a deer. The deer was hit first by another driver. The impact threw the deer through the windshield of the Westminster man’s van, causing his death.

In March of last year, according to the Pennsylvania State Police, a deer caused a bizarre accident near the small village of Wellsville, Pa. During a morning pickup run, a school bus carrying 25 schoolchildren was northbound on Route 74 west of Ridge Road in Warrington Township when a southbound compact car struck a deer, sending it through the windshield of the bus.

The deer landed on the driver. Fortunately, the driver, Barbara Reiff of Dillsburg, managed to stop the bus safely. Two high school students reacted immediately and pulled the dead deer off Reiff, while another student evacuated the bus. Reiff suffered head injuries and was hospitalized.

Involvement in a deer-related accident can be an adrenaline-surging, heart-pumping, frightening and potentially fatal experience. Most county residents know people who have hit a deer while driving, said Russ Rader, vice president of communications for the Arlington, Va., based non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, (IIHS), and the Highway Loss Data Institute, (HLSDI).

A study by State Farm Insurance, the nation's leading auto insurer, reports that Maryland ranks 13th in the nation in animal-related accidents, with about 1,500 annually, Rader said. West Virginia ranks first and Pennsylvania third in the number of accidents involving deer.

“It is estimated that there are more than 1.5 million deer-vehicle accidents [in the U.S.] each year, and that number is probably underestimated,” said Rader. “Accidents involving deer are not always reported.”

More than 200 people die each year in deer-related vehicle accidents. That number has doubled since the 1990s, according to the report by State Farm. In 2008 alone, Maryland State Highway Administration crews removed 6,600 deer carcasses from state roads.

Every year in Maryland, animal-vehicle crashes cause at least one fatality and more than 200 injuries. The largest number of deer-vehicle crashes occur in November when deer are mating. Why do they cross roads and get hit by cars? Experts point out that deer feed by foraging, always looking for new sources of food.

Research by wildlife biologists has shown that deer, like other herd animals, tend to follow the same trails on their way to and from food sources. Roads, which are relatively new in the historical scheme of things, often cross those trails.

According to Major Phil Kasten of the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, 30 deer-related accidents were reported in his jurisdiction in 2011. That number stays consistent from year to year, he said.

Rader, of IIHS, said that secondary impacts cause the majority of fatalities in deer-vehicle crashes. Typically, the crashes happen when the driver who hit the deer loses control and his vehicle rolls over, hits a tree or pole or another vehicle he said.

The average repair bill for hitting a deer is about $3,000 or about $30 per pound of deer, Rader said. Each year, according to industry estimates, insurers pay about $1 billion to cover deer-related property damage and injury claims. In Maryland, insurers pay $28 million a year in claims for deer-related vehicle accidents.

Brian Eyler, deer project manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who is a resident of Carroll County, said he has personally hit one deer and “bumped one or two more,” while driving on state roads.

Commercially, there are a number of sonic-type devices available – from inexpensive deer whistles to more expensive high-tech electronic gadgets that emit a directional high-pitched sound that manufacturers claim can reduce the incidence of deer-vehicle collisions. Drivers mount the deer-avoidance systems on cars, trucks and motorcycles. The equipment can range in price from about $5 to $100 or more. Manufacturers claim that the devices alert deer and other animals of an approaching vehicle. Often the animal stops before entering the highway or runs away, the companies claim.

“In all of the research I’ve seen, the evidence indicates that they don’t work,” Eyler said. “The best thing to do is to slow down and stay alert.”

“Based on our model, the deer population of the state is estimated to be about 230,000; and that is probably low,” Eyler said. “It is 30 to 35 deer per square mile. Obviously, in some areas it is lower than that: 10-20 per square mile. But it tends to be higher in suburban and urban areas. In Carroll County, the deer population is about 20 to 30 per square mile.”

DNR has a 10-year deer management plan, Eyler said. The process involves a schedule of public meetings. Social factors, rather than biological considerations, play more of a role in developing the details of the plan. Some urban areas, such as Howard, Montgomery and Baltimore counties, have developed local deer management plans, Eyler said. Carroll County does not have its own deer management plan, he noted.

Maryland is one of the most progressive states in looking at strategies and methods of managing deer populations, Eyler said. Unfortunately, contraception costs more than $1,000 per animal; and paying for professional hunters carries a price tag of anywhere between $100 and $200 per animal.

Kellie Boulware, spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said that new highway plans often include elements designed to reduce the number of animals killed on state highways. In 2011, the state installed 10 wildlife crossings along an 18-mile stretch of the western leg of the new $2 billion, six-lane Intercounty Connector. The state has pinpointed areas along state roads that are considered hotspots of wildlife crossings.

Oversized stream culverts cut under the ICC will allow animals to cross the highway safely. Wildlife crossing warning signs are also being erected at various locations on state roads, she said.

In the Hampstead area of Carroll County, the Highway Administration erected an eight-foot wildlife fence as part of the Hampstead Bypass, Boulware said. The wildlife fence is designed to restrict access to active travel lanes by larger animals.

The most effective and most economical method of controlling deer populations is that of allowing the public to hunt, said E.W. Grimes, president of the Maryland Quality Deer Management Association. A resident of the Westminster area, Grimes said that public hunts on state and county-owned lands are a cost-effective method of controlling deer populations.

Grimes said that his association, which collects biologic health data from seven managed deer hunts, believes that by harvesting does only, during controlled hunts, the overall population of a herd can be reduced, while the health of the deer herd increases. The overall quality of deer herds is also improved by restricting the harvest to does, he said.

Carroll County is not as highly developed as other areas of the state, Grimes said. Both Carroll and Frederick counties, he said, have a lot of public lands that are not open to hunting. Piney Run Park and state lands around Eldersburg are two areas of the county that have deer population problems, Grimes said.

Recreational hunting on farmlands is another proven way to control deer populations and reduce crop damage. An estimated $38 million in crops are damaged by deer and other wildlife in Maryland annually, according to Jonathan Kays, regional extension specialist of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

“There is an overabundance of deer,” Kays said. “And that causes a number of safety issues: deer-vehicle collisions, landscape and crop damage and Lyme disease.”

Deer ticks carry Lyme disease, Kays said. It is now the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If diagnosed in the early stages of infection, treatment with antibiotics is usually effective. A Lyme disease vaccine for humans is currently unavailable.

Kays said that recreational deer hunting and managed deer hunts are the most effective means of controlling populations. Maryland has a crop damage permit program for farmers that allows them to harvest does as needed. Educating the public about deer population issues and the most effective and cost efficient methods of managing deer herds is a key to developing public support, he said.

Brad Rill, vice president of Lippy Brothers Farms, which cultivates about 9,000 acres in the state, including land in Carroll County, encourages employees and their families to help control the deer population. The company obtains a yearly permit to shoot antlerless deer.

“Deer damage is a big problem for us,” Rill said. “It’s a constant battle.”

Gabe Zepp, agricultural development specialist for the Carroll County Economic Development program, said the Maryland Farm Bureau and other state agricultural groups support a program called the Maryland Doe Harvest Challenge. The goal of the Doe Harvest Challenge is to reduce crop damage and improve yields while helping support efforts to reduce hunger in the state. Carroll County does not participate in the program.

Does taken during the annual challenge “represented an additional 140,000 meals of high-quality, lean protein for the less fortunate in their local communities,” according to the Maryland Farm Bureau. Various agricultural groups, such as the Maryland Grain Producers, provide financial support for the program.

As urban and suburban development increases, the incidence of deer-related problems also increases dramatically. Public consensus on the methods used to manage deer populations is critical to developing effective public policy, Kays and other experts agreed. To achieve that consensus, the public needs to be educated on all of the factors involved.

For more information on:  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, visit www.iihs.org; the Carroll County Sheriff's Department, visit www.carrollcountysheriff.com; the  Maryland Department of Natural Resources, visit www.dnr.state.md.us; the Maryland State Highway Administration, visit http://roads.maryland.gov; the Maryland Quality Deer Management Association, visit www.marylandqdma.com; Managing Deer Damage in Maryland and the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, visit http://extension.umd.edu/publications/pdfs/eb354-c.pdf; Lippy Brothers Farm, visit www.lippybrothersinc.com; Carroll County Economic Development, visit www.carrollbiz.org, and the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Doe Harvest Challenge, visit www.mdfarmbureau.com.


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