Deer crossing sign

Deer populations become a bigger problem in neighborhoods where residents feed them.

Commuting in the darker days of fall and winter, residents of Island County — and Stanwood, too — have an added concern. Deer are most active during dawn and dusk. How many of us have been driving along and suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a deer leaps in front of us? “Oh, deer!”

Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that on state highways, motorists hit roughly 5,000 deer and elk each year.

Ralph Downes, with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, estimates that total could actually be twice what the study indicates.

“The vast majority of car-deer accidents are not reported,” he said.

Many island residents feed the deer, which results in a concentration of animals in those neighborhoods.

In a recent presentation, Scott Harris, a wildlife biologist with WDFW, said that whenever a deer is hit by a motorist, “there’s always someone feeding (them) nearby.”

Widespread feeding, along with reduced hunting and fewer predators, results in an overpopulation of deer, which in turn increases the number involved in collisions with cars.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is having to euthanize wild animals that someone has basically loved to death,” Harris said.

If the feeding stops, he says the deer population will eventually return to normal.

Harris and WDFW offer some tips for avoiding deer and car collisions.

• Be especially watchful at dawn and dusk. If you see a deer crossing the road, slow down, more might follow.

• When you see the brake lights of a car ahead, slow down and be cautious as you pass that spot.

• Take note of deer-crossing signs. They’re placed where frequent accidents have occurred in the past.

Headlights may confuse deer causing them to stop in the roadway. If you must drive in the dark, slow down so you have more time to react if you’re suddenly faced with a deer in the headlights.

With the common car-deer collisions and the shorter days ahead, it might make sense to take the bus. Studies show that commuting by bus is at least twice as safe as traveling by car. Consider letting the professionals do the driving.

Maribeth Crandell is an Island Transit mobility specialist; reach her at crandell@islandtransit.org or 360-678-9536.

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