Friday, December 01, 2006

OHIO NEWS: Deer-Vehicle Collisions Decline as Deer Population Declines

Friday, December 01, 2006, Matt Zapotosky, THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Dale Stacker’s GMC Canyon smashed into the deer at 68 mph and became slightly airborne when the animal slid under the truck. This crash is one of 15,525 deer-vehicle crashes reported in Ohio this year. The number typically spikes from October through December, when deer are on the move in search of mates.

But the annual number has been decreasing since 2003 and is on pace to drop again this year. There were 24,153 deer-vehicle crashes at this time last year, compared with 26,229 for the comparable period in 2004, the Ohio Department of Public Safety said.

The drop might be because of increased driver awareness and a decrease in the fall deer population, down from an estimated 700,000 in 2004 to 600,000 this year, Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials said. They attribute that decrease to allowing some hunters to kill up to three deer, two of which must be females, each hunting season, said department spokeswoman Lindsay Deering.

The three-kill area started with 26 counties in southeastern Ohio in 2004 and now encompasses 38 counties. That includes Franklin, which ranked seventh in the state last year for deer-vehicle crashes, with 533.

The number of deer that hunters kill each season has been relatively stable in recent years, but because more than 50 percent of hunters’ kills are does, the population continues to decline, said Dan Huss, the District 1 manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

Stacker, a 57-year-old deer hunter from Utica, said he has hit five deer in the past five years and has a hard time believing that deer herds are more controlled.

He said hunting is not a totally effective way to control the deer population because most hunters want the one buck they are allowed to kill each hunting season, not the doe that increases the deer population when she breeds.

The declining accident numbers might be misleading because many drivers do not report crashes with deer, said state wildlife biologist Mike Tonkovich.

Stacker’s crash Oct. 15 was the second one he reported. In three previous crashes, the damage was about $300 each time, and he fixed the vehicle himself. This time, facing a $6,000 bill to repair the wrecked driver’s side, Stacker decided he needed to go to his insurance company with proof of his accident.

Though the number of deer crashes in Ohio appears to be declining, the state ranks fourth in the nation in deercrash insurance claims filed with State Farm Insurance, said State Farm spokesman Brian Maze.

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