Local outlets across the country are reminding people that this time of year it’s important to stay safe from one of the most unassuming threats: deer. Around 200 people a year die in car accidents caused by deer in the roads, and they do an estimated $1 billion in vehicle damage, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
As a result many jurisdictions count on hunters to keep deer populations in check, although there are plenty of places where hunting is limited or banned where deer populations have become a significant problem.
In places where deer are overpopulated, tick-spread Lyme disease and chronic wasting disease are constant worries, and in numbers, deer can harm habitats and upset ecosystems.
In some states, like New Jersey, wildlife and parks management authorities are calling on hunters to help offset the damage caused by deer.
“Deer consume ground cover and shrubs affecting birds and other animals that rely on this vegetation, and browse young saplings, precluding the natural regeneration of forests,” said the Monmouth County Park System. “Changes in the forest composition from deer damage are clearly visible at many county park sites, threatening natural resources that were intended to be preserved by the county’s acquisition of the land.”
“It’s a forest health and wildlife diversity issue, where the overpopulation and over-browsing was critically impacting the health of the forests,” said assistant park director Andrew Spears.
Currently New Jersey has a deer population 111,000 strong. Last year hunters culled more than 6,800 deer including just over 4,000 does.
While the parks department reports that some of the deer habitats are showing signs of rebounding, it’s going to take larger, continuing effort to reverse the damage in a more substantial way.
To incentivize hunters, New Jersey is rolling out a new scheme where hunters who take three or more deer a year get a 50 percent discount on their permit for the following year.
“We have no data on whether we’ve had any impact on reducing the number of accidents,” said Spears. “But certainly when we implemented the program, although forest health was the primary reason, there were some secondary impacts of deer overpopulation, such as accidents with cars.”
In Kentucky, where deer accidents are also common, transportation cabinet spokesman Wes Watt offers good advice on how to avoid, or at least, minimize the risks.
He points out that deer are most active at dawn and dusk but will also cross highways at night. Also, deer travel in groups and if you see one deer, there are likely others in the area. And as a general rule, don’t swerve to avoid hitting a deer. If a deer jumps in front of your vehicle it’s often safer to hit it than to swerve off the road or into the oncoming lane.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, anti-hunting protestors tried to shut down a measure that puts $150,000 per year toward supporting deer culling efforts. The Ann Arbor city council voted 9-2 against dismantling the program. A prudent decision on their part.