Weather Could Drive Deer Collision Increase
This story was written by KOSU’s Jordan Nelson.
Dwayne Elmore, Extension Wildlife Specialist at Oklahoma State University, says in dry times, roads are the perfect place for hungry deer to find scarce food.
“A lot of times the bar ditches along the roads collect a little more moisture and are a little more green. So you do see deer, rabbits and other wildlife coming to the roads, because there are more actively growing plants.”
The Oklahoma Highway safety office keeps data on car crashes involving animals, and 2006–another year of heavy drought for the state–saw reported animal-related crashes spike by more than 20% over the three previous years.
Elmore says dry conditions can disrupt normal food sources, sending deer looking for whatever they can find.
“Most of the deer are trying to stay away from people during the summer months, or they’ll be on agricultural crops. But of course this year, the agricultural crops have largely failed.”
Dadreon Ritchie experienced the failure of crops and the change in deer movement firsthand. She and her husband own a “pick your own” blackberry farm in Yale, Oklahoma. She says her usual deer defenses weren’t needed this year.
“We put up the electric fence, and you can see where it runs–and that worked pretty well.
“We haven’t had that much trouble. We’ve been so worried about the drought and the heat and the freeze, we haven’t had time to worry about the deer.”
With their natural and agricultural food sources failing all summer, deer are on the move, seeking new places to get dinner. Elmore says this can lead to an increase in the number of encounters humans have with wildlife.
“They’re seeking out the best resources they can, and in a lot of cases that’s where we’re irrigating. We’ve got plants that are actively growing, because we’re pumping water on them.”
Michael Bradley, a PhD student at Oklahoma State, works at a nearby camp just outside Stillwater. He says the deer are getting bolder.
“The major difference is the deer, maybe due to lack of resources that are available, aren’t as afraid or spooked by people being near the water sources, and they’ll come closer to the water sources.”
The rough summer has forced deer to change up their normal patterns of movement. Soon we’ll be entering hunting season, which corresponds with the deer’s breeding season–the usual time when the animals are most active. Department of Wildlife Conservation spokesman Micah Holmes says the long-term effects of the drought on wildlife remain to be seen.
“Deer are tough–tougher than we are–but the fawns may be a little bit smaller this year. Horn production, antlers, is what a lot of hunters are worried about, may not be down this year but may be next year.”
As we move from a time of unusually high deer movement into the prime season of normal deer movement, Elmore says don’t expect the danger of hitting a deer on the highway to go away soon.
“The big spike on deer-vehicle collisions, though, is always during the rut, which is usually right before Thanksgiving in Oklahoma. And that’s not drought related, it’s just breeding activity.”
November has been the top month for animal-related crashes every year in the past decade, except for one. In 2004, October took that honor. Elmore says drivers should not let their guard down.
“The takehome is to always be aware. You shouldn’t wait to see a deer sign on the side of the road, particularly from that first of November to first of December period.”