Drivers Beware: Bambi Is Back; Motorist Run-Ins with Deer Cause a Lot of Damage in State; a Study Hopes to Change That

Article excerpt

Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

ATLANTA -- Buell Adams was only a couple of miles from home when he abruptly met his four-legged neighbor.

"I didn't know what happened," the Athens resident said. "I stopped and checked the car and saw the deer on the road."

Adams' granddaughter was driving him to the doctor's office two weeks ago when the accident happened. They were unharmed, but their car remains in the repair shop.

While it was Adams' first run-in with a deer, it wasn't an uncommon meeting.

"The officer said it was the fifth wreck that morning," he said.

Whether they know it, Georgia drivers are in the middle of peak season for vehicle collisions with deer, who are on the move because of breeding activity and a hunting season in full swing.

The state ranks among the highest in the nation in deer-related wrecks, but the clashes aren't always as dramatic.

Sprawling suburbs in fast-growing counties have homeowners and developers moving farther into the natural habitats of white-tailed deer, lessening the buffer areas between humans and roaming wildlife.

"You also have a less hunted population of deer because you have more neighborhoods," said Mark Whitney, assistant chief of game management for the state Department of Natural Resources.

He said the state's deer population of about 1.2 million has remained stable for the past six or seven years, in part because more liberal hunting season times and bag limits have helped maintain the numbers.

The parts of the state with the highest concentration, with the best food and habitat conditions for deer, are within the Piedmont region that covers areas of metro-Atlanta, Athens and Augusta.

"The Piedmont is also the area that's the most rapidly expanding part of the state," Whitney said.

Officials are looking at ways to stem the collisions, from managing wildlife on land near roads with high rates of crashes to sound and lighting devices that prevent deer from running onto highways.

STUDYING PREVENTION

Nationwide, about 200 deaths a year are blamed on crashes involving wildlife. More than 50,000 deer-vs.-vehicle wrecks are estimated to happen in Georgia each year.

But experts say the exact number is unknown because not all accidents are reported to police and insurance companies and not all damage happens from directly hitting a deer but also from swerving to avoid the animal.

This month, State Farm deemed Georgia the fifth-most dangerous state in the nation for deer and vehicle collisions, based on claims filed with the company.

"You have more people, more cars and more deer," said Robert Warren, professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Georgia.

He also pointed to an overall lack of driver awareness as another factor. …