Georgia DNR estimates 50,000 deer/car crashes a year

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Number of deer collisions grows.

Georgia DNR estimates 50,000 collisions in state
   
BY BRYAN BRASHER, Columbus News Ledger
Staff Writer

When Columbus resident Joe Maher decided to take Georgia Highway 39 back from Georgetown one night during the fall of 1999, he was well aware that deer often used the road's shoulders as an after-hours feeding trough.
But it didn't worry him. If anything, the deer were one of the main reasons Maher, an avid outdoorsman, chose Highway 39 over the more-traveled, adequately lit Highway 27.

Little did Maher know his decision that night would lead to an expensive game of demolition derby with a misplaced white-tailed buck.

"I was headed north and I saw the deer come out of the woods on top of a hill to my left," Maher said. "It was running in a straight line almost perpendicular to my line of travel, so I hit the gas pedal and sped up, thinking it would cross the road behind me."

Big mistake.

"Right about the time I hit the gas, the deer made a 90-degree left turn," Maher said. "Now we're traveling side by side, so I hit the brakes. Then the deer made a 90-degree right turn that sent it up over my hood."

Maher said he still isn't sure if the deer's antlers broke the windshield or if it shattered from the animal's impact on the hood. Either way, he found himself behind the wheel looking into the face of a wild animal that blamed him for all its troubles.

He escaped the accident unharmed, but had to replace the hood, windshield and both front quarter panels of his car.


Unreal numbers|


A recent report by Safari Club International estimated the number of deer-car collisions at 750,000 a year nationwide.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division estimates that 50,000 deer-car collisions take place each year in Georgia alone. Similar estimates have been ventured by the Alabama Department of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Though not all of the incidents are as eventful as Maher's, deer are considered one of the chief hazards to motorists who drive in either state.

"Collisions between vehicles and deer could be due to many reasons," said Todd Holdbrook, chief of game management for the WRD. "Increased human population growth, urban expansion, increased mileage of paved roads and increased deer populations in urban and developing areas certainly come to mind as reasons."

Though the number of deer-related accidents is still high in Georgia and Alabama, it has risen only slightly during the past several years - thanks mostly to high deer-harvest rates in each state.

Last year in Georgia, 294,000 hunters killed more than 402,000 deer statewide. No exact harvest numbers were available for Alabama's 2000-01 deer season, but because the state has perhaps the most liberal deer-season bag limits in the country, its totals are believed by many to be even higher than Georgia's.

The trouble with using hunters as the chief form of population control for deer is that a growing portion of the two states' deer herds reside in urbanized, "non-huntable" areas.

In the past, when remote pieces of property were developed, deer would simply retreat into the nearest stretch of woods. But now, increased development has left the animals with fewer options.

As a result, deer are often seen in crowded residential areas and on the side of busy interstates like I-185.

"I travel back and forth between Columbus and Cuthbert and between Columbus and Atlanta all the time," Maher said. "And I really can't remember the last time I made either trip without seeing a deer.

"Anytime you get behind the wheel of a car, you certainly have to have your head on a swivel."
 

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