The rut is winding down, leaving motorists with one fewer reason for colliding with a deer, elk or moose on the highway.
The annual fall mating season, which peaks in November, involves bucks chasing does, hunters pursuing bucks and vehicles driving through the flurry of activity at 60 mph.
But the carnage doesn’t end when all the does are bred and hunters lock away their guns for the season.
America’s roadways parallel rivers, slice through farm land, traverse meadows and cross passes and corridors that attract wildlife.
Winter is prime time for vehicles to collide with deer concentrated into valleys by the deep snow that forces them down from higher elevations.
While most of Washington’s 7,050 miles of highways present few safety issues with wildlife, some stretches are well-known danger zones.
Washington’s Methow and Colville river valleys are classic examples of habitats that lured deer long before highways paved way for high-speed traffic that kills hundreds of deer each year.
According to a recently released report by State Farm Insurance Co., 2.4 million collisions between deer and vehicles occurred across the United States from mid-2007 to mid-2009.
That’s a collision increase of 18.3 percent compared with five years earlier while the number of vehicles on U.S. roadways grew by 7 percent during the same period.
Although averaging suggests that a deer is struck by a vehicle in the U.S. every 26 seconds, the rate is much higher at peak times of animal movement – around early evening – especially when game is concentrated from fall through winter.
Collisions with deer result in repairs averaging more than $3,000 a vehicle, State Farm reported.
The worst cases cause more than 26,000 human injuries and about 200 fatalities a year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
With millions of animals being killed on highways each year, vehicle-animal collision rates can affect wildlife management and even hunting seasons.
“Last year’s heavy snowfall resulted in a higher than normal number of animals being killed on the roads,” said Kevin Robinette, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department regional wildlife manager in Spokane. “That was one of the factors that led us to back off on the number of doe permits we issued for this fall’s hunting seasons.”
On the other hand, the state issued 20 new permits this fall to hunters targeting deer along the U.S. Highway 395 corridor between Colville and Chewelah. The pilot program seeks in part to reduce the deer-vehicle collisions in that roadkill hotspot, Robinette said.
Transportation departments for most states install highway signs warning motorists of stretches that pose high probability of encountering big game. The areas generally are identified by the tally of roadkills picked up for disposal by highway department employees.
Washington Fish and Wildlife Department researchers used roadkill figures a few years ago to develop a model that would help highway officials identify prime wildlife habitat and reduce the potential for critter collisions.
Spokane-based research biologist Woody Myers and others studied 14,969 roadkills involving deer and 415 involving elk between 2000 and 2004.
The analysis confirmed that deer-vehicle collision rates peak in areas with high concentrations of deer and high traffic volume. Speed limits greater than 50 mph in these areas are another major contributor.
Cover, forage and water available near roads are associated with higher collision rates with deer, as are south-facing slopes that are favored winter range.
The research pointed out that fencing combined with wildlife overpasses or underpasses could reduce vehicle-animal collisions in hot-spot areas where wildlife concentrate or migrate.
The Department of Transportation is working to install more of these structures, officials said.
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